In 1994 basketball fans in Vancouver rejoiced as the National Basketball Association finalized plans to expand the league by forming two new franchises in Canada. Toronto named their team the Raptors, cashing in on the then-fresh Jurassic Park novelty. After much discussion, Vancouver chose as a name for their team the Grizzlies. (It had actually been suggested that the team be named the Vancouver Rain; while there was still some complaining about the Grizzlies name, it was widely agreed that at least there was the possibility of having a mascot.)
Things looked good at the time for the burgeoning young franchise. The front-office appeared to be in good hands under the supervision of one Stu Jackson, the team's first general manager. A uniform design in bright red and teal was approved in an attempt to connect to British Columbia's rich aboriginal culture.
1995 saw the Grizzlies draft Bryant ``Big Country'' Reeves, a seven-foot giant from Oklahoma who had soft hands and an even softer belly. Widely heralded as the best centre in the draft, he was picked 6th overall and Grizzlies management touted him as the first building block, as the player that they were to build the team around. A rag-tag but lovable team of castoffs (Doug Edwards) and veterans in the twilights of their careers (Byron Scott and Gerald Wilkins), the Grizzlies proceeded to win their first two games.
They then lost their next eighteen games.
After a rough start, Big Country began to round into form. Relieved to have broken their losing streak at 18 games, the team began to play better, even respectably. Sadly, this was not to last. Before the season ended, the team would go on another horrendous losing streak, this time shattering the league record by losing 23 straight games, a mark that still stood as of this year. The team finished with 15 wins and 67 losses, at or near the bottom of the league.
Over the next several years, through a combination of fair-to-middling draft picks and highly questionable personnel moves by management, the Grizzlies continued to flounder along, constantly showing signs of improvement without actually improving. There were bright spots, though: they had a real franchise player in Shareef Abdur-Rahim; they had a centre that was capable of producing 20 points and 10 rebounds a game in Big Country; they drafted Mike Bibby, a talented point guard who continues to shine in Sacramento; and they had a well-respected coach in Brian Hill.
Still, their third season was not meant to be a good one. After a long work stoppage, the season (shortened to 50 games) started several months after originally planned. Big Country, who had been awarded a 5-year, $50 million contract over the off-season, showed up to training camp 30 pounds overweight. Bibby, already having expressed reluctance at playing in Canada, was completely overshadowed by another rookie point guard playing in Sacramento.
Their fourth season began badly. The team decided (poorly, in hindsight) to draft, with their 2nd overall pick, Steve Francis, a headcase who very publicly refused to play in Canada. Even though the team likely only intended to use him as trade bait, his attitude hurt the team by diminishing his trade value. Around this point, too, the team stopped offering its special promotion that would offer $15 tickets to shoppers at a Canadian pharmacy chain. This led to a dramatic decline in attendance.
The team's final years in Vancouver were characterized by even more losing and constant question about the team's ownership. The team narrowly avoided being sold to Bill Laurie, husband of the heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, and being moved to St. Louis. However, a move was inevitable and after being sold to Michael Heisley, the team was moved to Memphis for the start of the 2001-2002 season.
Through all of this the Vancouver fans suffered. Already the losingest city in North American professional sports, the city watched as the team blundered its way through 6 seasons. Many of the moves the team made appeared to be good ones at the time; very few of them panned out. The Raptors, who had started out at the same time, had been more initially successful, then fell apart, and then rebuilt themselves into a playoff team before the Grizzlies were even capable of winning 25 games. Over the years, attendance dwindled until it was among the worst in the league.
Now, I have two general comments.
- Man, the Grizzlies sucked.
- How cool is my program, that I'm allowed to write about this dumb crap for marks?