Ja Morant looks comfortable. It’s January, about 45 minutes before tip-off at FedExForum, and a throng of fans has arrived early to watch this NBA season’s most electric performer amble through a series of jump shots. For Morant, the spotlight burns brighter every night. But here, wearing a sleeveless, white Grizzlies hoodie, he seems oblivious to the attention, as if he was jogging around the blacktop in his backyard on a lazy Saturday morning. Or, better yet, Morant appears ready to take a test he already has the answers for. At the crowd’s fore is his father, Tee, seated courtside behind Versace sunglasses.
As Ja’s harshest judge, Tee used to embed himself with rival fans, hoping to glean criticisms about his son’s game that he could then turn around and deploy as his own. Now he’s able to sit back and enjoy the show.
In five years, Morant has gone from a scrawny after-thought at a public high school in South Carolina to someone who can stake a claim as the face of a championship contender.