Why Vancouver lost the Grizzlies

How Vancouver lost the Grizzlies

The Grizzlies started out as an expansion team in British Columbia, along with the Toronto Raptors. Prior to that, every NBA team had their home games in the United States. The expansion that took place before the start of the 1995-96 season saw NBA expand out of the U.S. in Canada. Both Toronto and Vancouver had been good NHL cities, so the move seemed good for the NBA.
Historically, Vancouver had been a popular city for travel, as well as a major filmmaking area. Both owners and fans were optimistic about the extension and creation of a new
team, and hoped the city could become a great basketball town. General Motors Place opened just before the 1995-96 season, as home for the Grizzlies and the Vancouver Canucks hockey team.
In the six seasons they played at Vancouver, the Grizzlies ended up with NBA’s worst record, 101-359. 2001 – the Grizzlies moved away from the beautiful city of Vancouver and one could only wonder why one of the most beautiful and popular cities in the world fail badly as an NBA City?
One of the early mistakes the Grizzlies made was a 6-year deal worth $64million given to their 1995 draft pick Bryant Reeves. Reeves was never an All-Star and averaged less than 10 points per game throughout his career after that gigantic contract. Had the Grizzlies received a top five pick in the 1995 draft, they could have signed a better play, even on a long term deal. But the NBA’s condition for the drafts made it impossible for expansion teams to get first pick in the drafts.

Why Vancouver lost the Grizzlies team
Head Coach, Stu Jackson, made several non-optimal player selection decisions during his tenure. From selecting Antonio Daniels (who failed to develop) to trading a 2003 first-round pick for Otis Thorpe. He also signed a free agent, Tony Massenburg for US$11.5 million, just to sign Isaac Austin for US$5.5 million and leave Massenburg on the bench.


Another factor was the lack of home game attendance. In sports, attendance plays a huge part financially and morally. Attendance for the Grizzlies in their first season at General Motors Place was at 17,000, but in the following two seasons the attendance dropped. During their last seasons in Vancouver, attendance fell drastically; below 14,000. Over that span, the franchise lost millions of dollars. Dick Versace, the Grizzlies’ president of basketball operations, stated in the final Vancouver season that the company was losing US$40 million per season.

The team was unable to get sufficient support from the community business. According to Colin Jones, Professor in Sports Economic, University of Victoria, it was difficult to attract corporate sponsors given the team was losing so many games. He also stated that the team did not seek financial support from the business communities.
Then there’s the NBA strike that happened in 1998. Certainly, a strike was not what the Grizzlies needed for their finance. This led to the team being sold to Michael Heisley.

Some believed the Grizzlies outfit also contributed to their move away from Vancouver as it was regarded as the least marketable and most unattractive uniforms in all-sports. In sports generally, if a team is unable to make profits its own uniform, then the franchise cannot be marketed properly.

Back to the 1996 draft, the Grizzlies were denied the first pick of the draft. Had they been given the first or second overall pick, they could have chosen Allen Iverson or Marcus Camby. The Grizzlies with the third pick, selected Shareef Abdur-Rahim but could have selected Ray Allen, Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant, all of whom were selected after Abdur-Rahim. Despite how solid Abdur-Rahim was; he couldn’t jumpstart the franchise properly the way any of the other superstar in the 1996 draft could have done.

In the 1997-98 draft, the Grizzlies were denied first pick again. The 1999 draft saw the team select Steve Francis, who publicly wished to play for a team closer to his hometown in Maryland. Eventually, Francis was traded to Houston before the following season.


These here are some of the factors that led to the team’s relocation from Vancouver to Memphis. The Grizzles have had achievements and records since 2001 when the moved to Memphis. However, if and when the Grizzlies enjoy bigger success in future, it will not have been without Vancouver’s influence, which got its chance to be an NBA city.

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