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The Vancouver Grizzlies were a Canadian basketball team that played in the Midwest division of the NBA’s Western Conference between 1995 and 2001. The team was based in Vancouver, British Columbia and alongside the Toronto Raptors were the only Canadian team after the Toronto Huskies (1946-1947) to play in the NBA. The team was sold following the 2000-2001 season and relocated south to Memphis. Today, it is known as the Memphis Grizzlies.
How Did the Vancouver Grizzlies Start?
The idea to establish the Vancouver Grizzlies was born of the intent of the NBA to expand to Canada. In 1993 Arthur Griffiths who was also the owner of the hockey team Vancouver Canucks launched a bid for an NBA franchise to be based in Vancouver. GM Place, a 20000 arena already under construction for the hockey team would host the new franchise’s home games. The bid was officially approved on 27 April 1994 by the NBA shortly after the Toronto Raptors’ making Vancouver the 29th NBA franchise. Stu Jackson, a former head coach of the New York Knicks was appointed the general manager and Brian Winters became the Grizzlies’ first head coach.
The Vancouver Grizzlies in competition
Vancouver opened their first season with two consecutive victories over Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves. However they went on to lose the next 19 games and then set a league single season record 23 game losing streak. The team had terrible in-game performance year after year, finishing last in the division in five of their six years existence as the Vancouver Grizzlies. Only during the 1997-1998 season under Coach Brian Hill did they escape last place to finish sixth with a record of 19-63. The best position they recorded in the league was 25th again in the 1997-1998 season. In fact, during the shortened 1998-1999 season, they recorded the NBA’s all time low win percentage of 16%. In total the Vancouver Grizzlies won 101 games and lost 359 and failed to reach the playoffs a single time.
Vancouver Grizzlies’ Notable Moments
Having picked second in the 1999 draft, the Grizzlies selected rookie point guard Steve Francis. However, Francis who had hoped to be selected by Chicago Bulls stated through his manager that he did not want to play in Canada. Eventually, he never turned out in grizzlies colors as he was traded in a deal that became the biggest in the NBA history. The deal involved 11 players and three teams. Francis went to Houston Rockets and in subsequent outings for his new team in Vancouver he was fiercely booed by Grizzlies fans.
Coincidentally, the last home game for the Grizzlies in Vancouver was a 100-95 defeat to the Rockets in which Steven Francis featured and was again heckled by home fans. Despite enduring a now routine torrid season, their very final game in the NBA ended in a 95-81 win over the Golden State Warriors on the road, avoiding another 60-loss season.
Notable Players Who Played For the Vancouver Grizzlies:
Arguably the best player to feature for the Grizzlies was Shareef Abdur- Rahim who joined during the 1996 draft. Raheem was the top scorer for the Grizzlies during his five year stint at the franchise and averaged more than 20 points per game in his last four years. He was traded to the Atlanta Hawks at the end of the 2001 season and went on to be named in the 2001-2002 NBA All-Star team.
Though he never stepped out in Grizzlies colors, Steve Francis is significant to the Grizzlies history. Steve refused to join the Grizzlies when they selected him in the 1999 draft. He was traded to the Houston Rockets and became a much hated figure by Vancouver fans.
Byron Scott, the Current LA Lakers head coach spent a one year stint with Vancouver during their inaugural season in the NBA though he never featured prominently. He made 80 appearances for the team, all of them as a substitute.
What Happened To The Vancouver Grizzlies?
Low game attendance coupled with a declining Canadian Dollar saw the team start losing money. The waning community support had already seen the sustainability of an NBA team in Vancouver put into question and speculation of imminent relocation abounded. In 2001, the team was purchased by Bill Laurie, the owner of NHL franchise St. Louis Blues for US$200 million with the initial intention of moving the team to St. Louis.
However, the NBA declined to grant the request to move and the team changed hands again this time to Michael Heisley, a Chicago based business man for US$160 million. The team was eventually relocated to Memphis Tennessee and renamed the Memphis Grizzlies. The Memphis grizzlies have enjoyed much more success, reaching the playoffs seven times in 13 years.