Vancouver Fans Were Used, Abused and Forgotten

Published on May 15th, 2022 3:13 pm EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

The story of the Vancouver Grizzlies. The spring/summer of 1994 was a fantastic time for Vancouver sports fans.

Not only was the city's NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks, making a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the NBA elected to award an expansion franchise to Vancouver as well.

The then-owner of the Vancouver Canucks, Arthur Griffiths, had pledged to bring a NBA franchise to the city, and he was successful. A new arena was being built as well.

Vancouver had arrived.


Seven years later, the Vancouver Grizzlies were gone, having relocated to Memphis.

Vancouver's basketball fans were left feeling betrayed and confused - what had happened? Where had it all gone wrong?


The team's initial days were bumpy, to say the least.

The NBA required that the Vancouver franchise sell 12,500 season tickets with 50% payment prior to January 1st, 1995, in order for expansion to Vancouver to go ahead.

With only 10,000 tickets having been sold by December 21st, 1994, a company, Shopper's Drug Mart, purchased the remaining 2,500 tickets.

A few months later, the original ownership group of the Grizzlies sold the majority of the holding company holding the franchise rights to an American-based group, led by John McCaw, Jr.

On top of that, NBA rules made it extremely difficult for the two new expansion franchises (Grizzlies and Raptors) to operate in their early days.

In their first season, the Grizzlies were denied the opportunity to draft in the top 5 of the NBA draft.

On top of that, the Grizzlies were not able to use their full salary cap in the first two seasons.

If that weren't enough, the Grizzlies were not allowed to draft #1 for their first three seasons in the league, even if they won the lottery.

These rules conspired to make the Grizzlies really, really bad.


The Grizzlies made some major errors as well along the way.

One of their biggest - drafting Bryant Reeves with their first-ever pick, and then giving him a much-derided six-year, $61.8 million contract extension. Reeves showed flashes in the NBA, though weight issues and injuries would ultimately derail his career.

In what was another egregious error, the Grizzlies selected Steve Francis second overall in the 1999 draft, despite the fact that they already had Mike Bibby on the team. Francis had clearly stated before the draft that he didn't want to play for the Grizzlies, and he held tight to this belief after he was drafted. The Grizzlies ultimately had to relent, dealing Francis to the Rockets for a number of players and draft picks.

The situation ultimately cemented the notion that Vancouver was not a great city to play in for NBA players. A lack of cuisine, high taxes, lack of endorsement deals and additional travel were all cited as reasons as to why players didn't want to play in Vancouver.


While the Grizzlies were terrible on the court, two separate happenings conspired to move them out of Vancouver - a weak Canadian dollar and the 1998 NBA lockout.

The 1998 lockout ruined all of the momentum that the Grizzlies' business had, and the Grizzlies average attendance plummeted to the third-lowest in the league. Vancouver is a hockey team, and the 1998 lockout took the bloom off of the NBA rose.

In addition, a weak Canadian dollar and plummeting attendance meant that the Grizzlies were losing money hand-over-fist.

John McCaw, Jr. tried to sell the Grizzlies to Bill Laurie, who owned the NHL's St. Louis Blues. Laurie was very forward about wanting to move the team to St. Louis, though the NBA stopped the transaction.

Instead, McCaw, Jr. sold the team to Michael Heisley for $160 million. Heisley promised to keep the team in Vancouver. After the NBA let the transaction go ahead, many Vancouverites felt as though the team was safe - after all, the NBA had already stopped a transaction that would have seen the team move to St. Louis.

Instead, Heisley immediately started the process of looking for a city to move the Grizzlies to. This time, the NBA was on board, and the Vancouver Grizzles were officially relocated to Memphis on July 3rd, 2001.


The Grizzlies were objectively terrible while in Vancouver - as in their best season they still managed only 23 wins. Here were their records during their 6 seasons in Vancouver:

8-42 (lockout)

As a result, the team's attendance plunged:



With the changes to the CBA, the stronger Canadian dollar and the big jump in the value of TV contracts, a Vancouver-based franchise would be much more healthy.

The reality, however, is that Seattle (if they get their franchise back) is likely the closest that Vancouver ever gets to getting the NBA again.

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