Describe your line of work. A lawyer named Keenan Carter made the inquiry. “I am a professional basketball player for the Memphis Grizzlies,” Ja Morant answered. On Monday, December 11, at 1:45 p.m., Morant was giving a witness statement in the downtown Memphis, Tennessee, Shelby County Courthouse, which dates back a century.
Clad in a black jacket and white shirt, Morant sat behind the judge overseeing a case that accused him of hitting Joshua Holloway, who was 17 at the time, in July 2022. The wall behind them was covered in wood paneling and had pictures of robed judges.
FedExForum was less than a mile away, but it felt like a world away at the moment. In a better world, Morant’s profession would be on exhibit there. However, he was serving a 25-game NBA suspension on this particular day, which was about to end in a few days.
Family, friends, and onlookers from the 2022 basketball court altercation in the backyard of Morant’s Memphis, Tennessee, house watched from the gallery of the courtroom. Covering every step he took since his arrival that morning, cameras and reporters followed him to Tennessee’s largest courthouse, an elaborate neoclassical edifice spanning an entire city block that was the setting for the 1991 horror film “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Carter, Morant’s lawyer, fetched a basketball from under a table and threw it to his client early in the player’s testimony. Morant threw it away. Carter handed it to Morant once more, and he returned it. It was a Memphis Grizzlies basketball, of course.
The purpose of the conversation, which took the form of a legal question, was to show off a standard check ball from a pickup basketball match.Because, according to Morant’s attorneys, Holloway fired a one-handed pass that struck Morant in the face out of frustration after losing multiple games. In an attempt to have the charge dismissed, Morant’s lawyers have maintained that their client acted in self-defense.
“What you on?” It was Morant who asked Holloway. Morant reported that Holloway pulled up his pants instead of answering.Then, according to Morant, Holloway stepped toward him, and the two came face to face.Carter recreated the scene in the courtroom, standing chest to chest with Morant.
Morant claimed, “I hit him first—to protect myself.”Rebecca Adelman, Holloway’s lawyer, questioned Morant on cross-examination on whether he will be one of the NBA’s future faces. Yes, he replied. Do you want to be a role model for young people in Memphis? she asked. Yes, he replied.
“Your conduct and how you behave impacts your brand, it impacts your reputation?” Adelman queried. Yes, Morant replied.She threw another basketball to Morant, who returned the favor, demonstrating another check ball.”You testified that this basketball was a weapon, yes?” Morant was asked by Adelman.”Yes,” Morant answered back.From the stand, Morant remarked, “Where I come from, that’s a fighting stance—him pulling up his shorts.”
The Grizzlies played the Dallas Mavericks later that evening at the adjacent FedExForum; again, sans Morant. The Grizzlies were unsuccessful without Morant as well, finishing with a 6-16 record overall and a 1-10 record at home.
The Grizzlies’ defeats have increased after losing Morant. A squad built to survive the suspension of its top player has been decimated by injuries. Publicized are scenes of embarrassment and frustration. The 6-19 Grizzlies, who have been coached by Jared Lett go for four seasons, are tense and on the verge of collapse after 25 games. It’s unclear which Ja Morant is scheduled to return on Tuesday night—and whether it will matter in the end on the court this season—under the shadow of litigation and a damaged image.
The Gizzlies suffered six straight defeats to start the 2023–24 season. Following a home defeat to the Utah Jazz that left his team with an NBA-worst 1-8 record, Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins blasted the refereeing on Nov. 10, displaying one of his earliest displays of annoyance.
Tell reporters to “saddle up,” Jenkins said. “This was one of the worst officiated games I have ever witnessed. Take note of it. That’s okay with me. Horrible, to put it mildly.” (He received a $25,000 fine for his comments.)