- GEN - Grizzlies play their way to extinction

Monday, April 16
Grizzlies play their way to extinction

VANCOUVER, B.C. – After what probably was their final game in Vancouver, the Grizzlies showed video highlights from their six-season history. Given that history, editing the tribute must have been like compiling Allen Iverson's greatest hits.

After several minutes of schmaltzy clips of jumpers, dunks and celebrations along with the requisite sentimental music, one frustrated fan finally shouted, "Hey, forget this (crap). Put on the Canucks game!"

Such is life for the Grizzlies, who are on the verge of joining the Kansas City Kings, New Orleans Jazz and canvas hightops into NBA oblivion. Even while playing (and losing) the finale against the Houston Rockets, the Grizzlies shared the sports stage with the Canucks, who were playing Game 2 of their Stanley Cup series in Colorado at the same time. "We're listening to the Canucks," read one fan's sign.

Team Rimshot goes through owners the way Shawn Kemp goes through paternity suits. The latest is Michael Heisley, who took over last April amid big boasts and promises. It took him all of 11 months to announce he was moving the Grizzlies to Memphis. France held out longer in World War II than Heisley has in Vancouver.

The Grizzlies will be the first NBA team to move since the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento after the 1984-85 season, which is to say they will be the first relocation since the NBA's revival during the Bird-Magic-Jordan era. Their impending departure is a warning for everyone else.

While the move to Memphis isn't guaranteed – the league still must approve a transfer and a local group is trying to buy the team to keep it in B.C. – few doubt that Vancouver is about to join a long list of cities jilted by a sports team.

"The biggest bummer in my life was when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles," said Bob Gardali, a transplanted New Yorker who was among the 18,751 fans at Saturday's game. "I cried for a month. I thought the city of Brooklyn owned the team. I didn't understand the concept of private ownership. It isn't as hard this time. I've learned the crude reality of sports."

Gardali said he made certain he had good tickets for Saturday's possible finale, buying courtside seats for $250. That's in Canadian dollars, which translates to about $14.78 in U.S. money.

The declining value of the Canadian dollar is but one thing working against the Grizzlies. There also is a difficult tax situation, a limited market and a small local broadcasting package. The Grizzlies don't own their arena, either, and don't receive a share of the parking or concession revenue.

Heisley claims $40 million in losses, and even more incredibly, he does so with a straight face. Whatever his actual losses though, clearly there is a financial problem.

"When you know going in that you're going to take in Canadian money and pay out in U.S. money, that's a formula that doesn't work," Vancouver forward Grant Long said. "If the team had won 45 or 50 games, we still wouldn't have been successful from a business standpoint. You go in hoping that everything happens right, but when was that ever the case?"

Never. The Grizzlies won the first two games they ever played, then lost 19 in a row. They also lost 23 consecutive. In just six years, they lost 358 games, including Saturday when they blew a 19-point lead. They traded for Doug West and the player responded to this wonderful career move by immediately checking himself into an alcohol abuse center.

For much of their history, they seemed to exist only so that the Clippers could feel superior to someone.

"We've never been stable," said Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who played for five coaches and three owners in just five seasons. "We never started to really build anything. We would put up a couple bricks at the start of the season and at the end of the year we would knock them down. Then we would set up a couple more the next year and knock them down again. It's hard to build a foundation that way."

Especially when your top draft picks refuse to play for you, as Steve Francis did in 1999, necessitating his trade to Houston and transforming him into a symbol of everything that went wrong in Vancouver.

That the fans supported the Grizzlies as well as they did is a testament to what could have been had the team ever delivered a quality product. As it is, this year Vancouver outdrew the Rockets and three other teams that will return to their cities next season. Apparently, that isn't good enough for the NBA.

Fittingly, Francis was in town for the finale and the fans booed him every time he touched the ball. He returned the favor, telling the Houston Chronicle that he was "the pioneer to get (the Grizzlies) out of here. I hope the Vancouver players are grateful."

Francis is wrong about that. Considering the way the league treated them, the Vancouver fans are the ones who should be grateful. Their pain is just about over.

Memphis' is about to begin.

Jim Caple is a regular contributor to

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories


Hughes: Vancouver era ends, new bad one begins

Grizzlies' last stand in Vancouver? Rockets win regardless