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Relocated NBA Teams: The Vancouver Grizzlies

The Vancouver Grizzlies were a Canadian basketball team that played in the Midwest Division of the NBA’s Western Conference from 1995 to 2001. The Grizzlies are now known as the Memphis Grizzlies following their relocation to the Tennessee city in 2001. During their time in Vancouver, the team was based at the General Motors Place. The Grizzlies were formed as one of two expansion franchises in Canada, the first time the NBA was returning to the country since the Toronto Huskies folded nearly 50 years earlier. The team was originally to be named Mounties but a naming disagreement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who used the short form “Mounties” led to the adoption of the “Grizzlies” moniker.

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The Vancouver Grizzlies had a miserable time on court. During their six years in Vancouver, they did not make the playoffs even once. They were regularly rooted to the bottom of the league, only escaping last place once. That their best record was a 23 win 2000/01 season reinforces the notion that the Vancouver Grizzlies were a really disastrous team. Their .220 win percentage over the six years they played in Vancouver was the lowest in the league.

Much of their misery in play had to do with their poor draft picks. Despite finishing last in the NBA for three out of six seasons, they never got the first pick a single time. The NBA lottery, introduced in 1985 meant that teams that finished last were no longer guaranteed the first draft pick. The team’s poor player selection was not only blamed on their bad luck in the draft lottery, but also on the team leadership’s poor eye for talent. Ahead of their first season, the team handed a 6-year deal worth $64 million to Bryant Reeves. After signing that humongous deal, Reeves never reached 10 points per game throughout his career. His huge wages put the Grizzlies in a salary cap freeze that denied them the chance to attract and retain good players. In 1995, they used the third draft pick to sign Shareef Abdur-Rahim while players such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Ray Allen were selected with later picks by other teams. Other poor signings include Antonio Daniels in 1997 and Stromile Swift in 2000. Steve Francis, picked in 1999 refused to play for a Canadian team and had to be traded to the Houston Rockets.

Why were the Vancouver Grizzlies Relocated?

An array of factors was to blame for Vancouver’s inability to hold on to their team, but ultimately it boiled down to the Grizzlies inept performances on court. Bogged down by their inability to pick good players in the NBA draft, the Grizzlies were league pushovers year on year. Fans are only willing to pay for good basketball but with that missing, attendance at the General Motor Place fell from over 17,000 per game during their first seasons to less than 14000 during their last two seasons in Vancouver. The Grizzlies’ teal uniform, one of the most unattractive in the history of sport was also said to be a turnoff for fans and sponsors. Financial losses inevitably followed with the franchise hemorrhaging tens of millions of dollars each season. The 1998 lockout season complicated matters further as it denied the team much needed revenue streams. In September 1999, Michael Hesley, a Chicago based business man purchased the team for $160 million and set in motion plans to relocate the team. In February of 2001, Hesley announced a possible relocation from the city and went on a road trip of various US cities in search of possible new destinations. Memphis beat off competition from cities such as San Diego, St Louis, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Louisville to win the hosting rights for the team despite the fact that a new arena had to be constructed. Following the 2000/2001 season the move materialized and the team was renamed Memphis Grizzlies. In subsequent years, the relocated franchise improved their play and have gone on to make several playoff appearances. However, fan attendance has not improved much compared to the Vancouver years. Vancouver is yet to taste NBA action since but it is one of several cities being considered by the league for possible franchises.

Vancouver Grizzlies most Notable Players

Shareef Abdur-Rahim PF 1996-2001

Bryant Reeves C 1995-2001

Mike Bibby PG 1998-2001

Doug West SG/SF 1998-2001

Greg Anthony PG 1995-1997

Blue Edwards SG/SF 1995-1998

Anthony Peeler SG 1996-1998

Michael Dickerson SG 1999-2001

Grant Long PF 1999-2001

Tony Masenburg C/PF 1997-1999, 2000/01

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