Why the Grizzlies left Vancouver
By Mo Hussain, Sports Reporter
Believe it or not, Toronto didn’t used to be the only Canadian city with an NBA team. Vancouver also had one. The team played in a good arena, had initial fan interest, and even won an overtime thriller in their home opener. However, fast-forward six seasons later and the team had only won 101 out of 460 games. The franchise was in such bad shape that the team had to be relocated to Memphis, Tennessee.
So why did the team lose so much? What went wrong? What made the Raptors any different? Let’s take a look at some of the key factors as to why this city’s stint in the NBA was so short:
Out of the top four North American team sports of basketball, football, baseball, and hockey, obtaining a superstar player is arguably most important in basketball. Without a star player it is very difficult for an NBA team to be consistently competitive.
The outcome of a game is much more in the control of a basketball star than it is in most other team sports due to how many players are on a given roster, how much of a game the star can play, and how many players are all actively playing at once.
Unlike the Toronto Raptors with Vince Carter and Antonio Davis, the Grizzlies only had at best a handful of above average players and never once had a player on their team be selected as an NBA all-star. This not only played a huge role in the team’s performance on the court, but it was also something that the team was missing out on financially as well. A homegrown talent could have lured fans to buy more tickets, seen additional merchandise sold, contributed to advertising revenue, and possibly secured national TV deals. But no such talent existed.
As beautiful as this city is in 2020, for some reason back in 1996, coming to Vancouver was not as enticing to a lot of NBA players as you would think. In addition to the team’s miserable play on the court, for most players living in the US, having to go to a city that was in another country, imposed high taxes, and had heavy rainfall, wasn’t something to look forward to.
A notable example was Vancouver’s first round draft choice in 1999, Steve Francis, who was notoriously adamant on not wanting to play in Vancouver. In an episode of Beyond the Glory, Francis recalled repeatedly telling his agent Jeff Fried at the 1999 NBA draft that he “did not want to play in Vancouver.” And he wanted him to do everything in his power to make sure that that was not going to happen.
Despite Francis’s disinterest in coming to Vancouver, the Grizzlies still drafted him with the second overall pick. Francis went on to never play a single game for Grizzlies and was then traded to the Houston Rockets before the start of the 1999-2000 NBA season.
An obvious consequence of any team’s mediocre performance on the court is a loss in the team’s financial department. In an article on Bleacher Report, Perry Schwartz wrote about how “attendance dropped below 14,000 during the last two seasons the Grizzlies were in Vancouver.” And how the franchise lost “tens of millions of dollars.”
This, in addition to the declining Canadian dollar and other variables, made way for American billionaire Michael Heisley to purchase the franchise from John McCaw Jr, and relocate it to Memphis.
Their performance on the court…
All in all, the main root as to why Vancouver lost the Grizzlies was the fact that the team unfortunately could not keep up with the rest of the league on the court. The team won 101 out of 460 games and never won more than 25 games in a single season. When a team is not performing up to par consistently, there is only a certain amount of games where fans are just excited about having a team regardless of how they perform. After a while, that initial interest eventually fades away and the team must eventually face the reality that winning matters. And while there are still plenty of other reasons as to why this team did not survive, many would agree that a lot has changed since then. The only question to ask moving forward is if there still a case for an NBA team in Vancouver in 2020?