Bring Back the Vancouver Grizzlies
Sports fans love to reminisce over the days that it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused — and still cause — us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
History will look back on what appears to be a short NBA stay in Vancouver, but it will feel like an eternity for the fans that followed all the trials and tribulations of the Grizzlies. They packed a lot of heartache into six seasons, losing 359 games and almost as many millions of dollars. Of course, it all came to an end with the move to Memphis, but it started with mistakes like drafting Steve Francis and tying up way too much money in Bryant Reeves
| July 3,
|NBA owners approve the Grizzlies’ move to Memphis for the 2001-02 season|
They’re hardly the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the Vancouver Grizzlies must have meant something to somebody somewhere. Right? Lukewarm upon receiving the NBA franchise in 1994 and tepid in attendance over six years, Vancouver was similarly blase when team boarded that Fed Ex jet to Memphis. Ten fewer people breathing the glorious air in Stanley Park on any given Saturday morning, as far as they were concerned.
But it still was a slap in the face, and that’s rarely enjoyable. To listen to former Grizzlies gripe about weather and food and culture, you’d have thought they were living in Vancouver, Washington … not B.C., which just happens to be considered by many the most beautiful city in North America.
The support was not beautiful, however, and neither were the results. The Grizzlies won 15 games in their first season, then 14, then eight, then 22 and 23. The team went through three owners, five head coaches and two GMs, never making the playoffs and never having the No. 1 overall pick.
Michael Heisley has deep pockets … but not deep enough to stay in Vancouver. AP
The third and current owner, Michael Heisley started looking to move the club less than a year after buying it. Losses between $40-50 million and 70-percent capacity at GM Place will do that to a fellow. As the move became more of a reality, the Grizzlies began their most aggressive house-cleaning ever, trading away stars Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Mike Bibby and pulling in new faces like Shane Battier, Jason Williams and Lorenzen Wright, who starred at the University of Memphis.
Some fans saw it as what the team should have been doing all along. Others saw it as just another sad attempt to reinvent itself.
“Now Memphis is going to have to go through the same sorry s— that we had to in Vancouver for six years,” said Jay Triano, Canada’s national basketball team coach who spent six years as a Grizzlies radio announcer. “Those moves are crap. They had two legitimate stars in Shareef and Bibby and they didn’t get value back.”
Abdur-Rahim was one of the few players who were vocal in their support of Vancouver, saying, “I’ve been blessed to play here. It’s been an honor and a pleasure for me to go out and play in front of them every night.” His departure might have made our list of fan heartbreakers … but, you know what, it’s not their problem anymore.
| Blame Grizzlies Mess On NBA’s Arrogance
Toronto Sun — March 26, 2001
By Ken Fidlin
Let’s be honest. The Vancouver Grizzlies didn’t even seem like a good idea at the time.But, hey, this was the infallible National Basketball Association, the world’s most successful sporting league. This was the golden age of Michael Jordan when everything the NBA touched turned to gold.
If David Stern said the pro game would succeed in Vancouver, then of course the Grizzlies would succeed, even in the face of flawed market fundamentals.
Eight years later, Stern and the NBA have been proved quite fallible and the Vancouver Grizzlies are toast. …
… The enthralling vista of ocean and mountains with a magnificent, multicultural urban centre tucked between, not to mention the notion of an extra $100 million, addled their brains. It became “How can we make this work?” rather than “How does this city work for us?”
Vancouver was not clamouring for NBA basketball during the early 1990s. There was no grassroots ground swell of pentup demand. The Griffiths, primary owners of the NHL Canucks, simply wanted another permanent tenant for their new arena and the NBA was a convenient long shot.
The NBA ignored all its own good business instincts and awarded not one but two franchises, even though there were few indications that the NBA made sense in Vancouver, traditionally a lukewarm sports town. Indeed, the folks in Vancouver seemed more surprised than anyone when they came home with the franchise.
| Tasha Wood, Vancouver, B.C.
Mr. Eisley promised that he was not going to move the team. He just completely lied and I believe planned on moving the team the entire time. He has not made any real effort to improve the team. Of course, people do not want to come out to see a sub-par team which was all a part of his plan. To keep the team doing poorly then move them because not enough fans were coming to the games. I am also disappointed in David Stern, who made a commitment to Vancouver and who has now broken that commitment. But the worst part is that we do not even get one more season to try and turn the situation around.
JJ, Courtenay Bay, B.C.
The day has finally arrived. I love basketball and on this black day, I find out that after only six years of my dream coming true the Grizz are to be taken away. It’s too bad, but the memories will remain. No other team has ever been so dear to my heart as this 91-game winning team. But is Vancouver to blame for not supporting the Grizz? The Grizzlies must have the most unmarketable uniforms in pro sports. As soon as i saw the unis, I knew something was amiss. Then the exited players all not wanting to play in this beautiful city. Steve Francis, Othella Harrington, Otis Thorpe, oh yeah, we will remember you all. Thanks for nothing, David Stern and the rest of the NBA.
| June 24,
|Grizzlies select G Steve Francis at No. 2 overall|
Steve Francis has some serious ups. In Canada, he would have jumped only about two-thirds as high.
By the look on Steve Francis’ face at the 1999 NBA Draft, you’d have thought he had been drafted by the Russian army to go fight the Battle of Leningrad. Citing the distance between his Maryland home, taxes, endorsements, and, later, God’s will, Francis was not looking forward to his rookie season.
But he got over it … after forcing the team into a three-team, 11-player deal that sent Francis to Houston and brought Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Antoine Carr, Brent Price, plus first- and second-round picks. He’d go on to share Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 18 point, 6.6 assists and 1.53 steals in 77 starts.
In his first game back in Vancouver, Francis was harassed verbally and physically, as tomatoes, eggs and a tennis ball came hurtling out of the crowd. “I’ll admit it was pretty bad,” he said.
Thing were pretty much the same in subsequent visits, as he became the poster boy for all things wrong with the Grizzlies fortunes. Asked if maybe it’s time for the Vancouver fans to just get over it, Francis smiled and shrugged.
“If they don’t, I understand,” he said.
At least he’ll never have to go back.
| Memo To Francis: Goodbye
Vancouver Province — July 2, 1999
By Tony Gallagher
People in this business are frequently asked what it’s like dealing with athletes who make mountains of money.It isn’t always easy but in the case of Steve Francis, there is one consolation. At the end of the day he’ll be much richer and perhaps even much happier than you, but he’ll still be a stupid, ignorant dork when he wakes up the next morning.
We here in Vancouver can all understand why somebody from Maryland may not wish to be drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies. It’s a long way from home and it’s a move to another country, something that can be difficult for anyone let alone an uneducated, provincial doofus like this kid. But buddy, hide it a little better.
There are two ways to look at Francis’ performance Wednesday at the National Basketball Association draft. He is either making his displeasure known so as to force a trade by the man posing as the general manager of the Grizzlies, or he was one of the worst-prepared people in the history of the NBA draft. And that is no small feat.
Whomever is responsible for the education of this dolt evidently left off a little early. Did it not dawn on Francis or any of his close family that Vancouver had the No. 2 pick and that Chicago might actually go for a player other than himself? Did it not dawn on him that, given Vancouver did have this pick, he might actually look at a map for the first time in his life to see where this hellhole of a town might actually be located? If this is an example of the composure we can expect from this kid on the basketball court when something doesn’t go his way, it looks like Stu Jackson has made a pick that will make Antonio Daniels look good.
What is it with the preparation of the Grizzlies in this area? When they talk to these kids, don’t they ask them to put on a brave face in the horrific event they are actually chosen by this organization? Don’t they ask the kid or his agent or his grandmother whether he would mind playing in Vancouver if it meant going No. 2? Wasn’t the Mike Bibby experience enough to alert them to the possibility of a similar public relations nightmare this year?
And what about the concept of drafting a player who actually wouldn’t mind joining Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Bryant Reeves and Bibby to form a coming young team? After all, Mr. Jackson has been telling us just how good this young core is going to be for quite some time now. Why is it players like Francis have an embolism when they find themselves joining Jackson’s coming juggernaut?
Francis, evidently an infrequent visitor to the geography department at the University of Maryland, said of the mandatory Grizzlies hat plunked onto his empty head at the draft when asked: “As soon as I can take it off, I will.”
| Roger Watts, Vancouver, B.C.
L’Affaire Francis. This is not so much a criticism of the Grizzlies, as they were as much a victim in this mess as anyone else in Vancouver. The fact that Steve Francis decided to act like a 2-year-old on national TV in the 1999 draft and start whining about coming to Vancouver was far more his problem than anyone else’s. Nonetheless, it robbed Vancouver of a much-needed instant impact player (as he has obviously turned out to be, to Vancouver’s continued anguish) and gave the city a bit of a much-undeserved black eye in the PR department.
| July 8,
| Grizzlies sign C Bryant Reeves to a
six-year, $61.8 million extension
In their first NBA Draft, the Grizzlies got a sneak peek at the kind of luck they would come to expect, dropping down to sixth in the lottery. By making Bryant Reeves their first ever draft pick, the team gave a sneak peek at the business decisions that would plague it to the end.
Bryant Reeves’ contract became a weighty issue in Vancouver.
Stephen Dunn /Allsport
Big Country wasn’t a “miserable” pick at No. 6, by any means. Not only is he blessed with size and ability, but with the demeanor and manners of being the son of a Baptist minister from rural America. But when the rest of the league is marketing the high-flying creative aspects of the game, an expansion team could have done better than to invite fans to watch its 7-footer plod his way up the court for his 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.
What really hurt Vancouver, however, was not paying attention to NBA history (Atlanta with Jon Konkac; Seattle with Jim McIlvaine) and tying up a lot of precious cap money in a player who was not capable of carrying the team or filling seats. Nor did it make him very easy to trade.
Alternately praised and chastised for his commitment (ie conditioning), Reeves lost his starting job to Isaac Austin midway through the 2000-01 season, and actually became a better contributor off the bench. But at $10.1 million, that’s a pretty expensive contribution.
| Reeves Still Loves The Game
Vancouver Sun — April 18, 2001
By Gary Kingston
He came to Vancouver as something of a country bumpkin. A Big one, if you will.Six years later, he’s a husband and a father and an NBA veteran. But at heart, Bryant Reeves is still a little bit of a muck-out-the-barn unsophisticate – a very wealthy one, mind you – whose kind of Kentucky Joe (think Survivor) demeanor makes him a very likeable, friendly sort of guy. But perhaps not the fiery, driven competitor basketball fans wanted, or thought they should get, for $10 million US a season.
It’s why when the Grizzlies closed out their regular-season home schedule last Saturday, Reeves was booed during pre-game introductions and again when his name was called for the jersey-off-the-back promotion.
As a target of fan venom on that emotional night, he joined discredited team architect Stu Jackson, whose picture was shown ever so briefly in the video tribute, current owner Michael Heisley and absent veteran Doug West, whose infrequent on-court appearances over the last three years had him labeled as a malingerer.
Yet, the booing of Reeves seemed misplaced. After all, he had not made questionable drafts or poor trades, or set about to move the team, or bad-mouthed the city, Canadian taxes and the hassles of customs, or lingered on the injury list like West or Doug Edwards before him.
Instead, he was still paying the price for one admittedly dumb off-season of inactivity for which he never seemed to be forgiven, for accepting that six-year, $64 million contract and for not meeting expectations that were probably set too high in a league in which his kind of game now doesn’t fit.
“It’s kind of the bandwagon theory,” said the jean-clad Reeves on Tuesday as he relaxed in the lobby of an opulent downtown hotel. “When everything’s going good people love you. When it’s not, they hate you.”
| Roger Watts, Vancouver, B.C.
Bryant “Big Country” Reeves’ $65 million contract. In his first couple of years, the Grizzlies’ first-ever draft pick showed some signs of promise, but nothing spectacular. For some reason, GM Stu Jackson decided that was enough upon which to mortgage the entire franchise, and signed Reeves to a long-term deal which devoured the Grizzlies’ salary cap leeway and locked them into a massive US-dollar commitment, which has only gotten worse as the Canadian dollar has shrunk over the ensuing years. With a badly underperforming Reeves and no cap room to bring in new talent, this single factor had as much as anything to do with the Grizzlies’ present predicament.