As I live in Vancouver (Canada), it might come as no surprise that I was a fan of the Vancouver Grizzlies back when they were in town. As I had never lived in a city with an NBA franchise, it was very exciting to be able to go to games on a regular basis. Sure, the level of basketball knowledge among Vancouver fans was a little embarrassing, but they meant well, most of the time. Of course, that paled in comparison to the level of knowledge NBA players had of Vancouver. There was the time when Othella Harrington, before the 1996 draft, showed up in Vancouver for a workout wearing a parka. In June. Keep in mind that Harrington was a four year graduate of Georgetown University, one of the more prestigious universities in the United States. Steve Francis, during his very brief visit to Vancouver, said he looked up into the mountains hoping to see a bear. Just take a look at how far the the mountains are from downtown, which is where he was. Brains, apparently, are not a prerequisite to play in the NBA.
Now when the newly awarded Vancouver NBA franchise were looking for someone to run the organization, Commissioner David Stern, himself, recommended Stu Jackson. A former head coach with the Knicks and NCAA’s Wisconsin Badgers, Jackson had no previous front office experience, but that didn’t matter. They hired him anyway. And he proceeded to run the team into the ground with bad decision after bad decision.
While the Toronto Raptors were excelling with superstar, Vince Carter, the Grizzlies were struggling to keep their fans who were sick of all the losing. The owners decided they needed to sell the team and nearly soldthe team to aspiring supervillian and Wallmart heir, Bill Laurie, who was so rude and upfront about moving the team to St. Louis, he ended up being told to hit the road by the league. When it looked like it was going to happen, I wrote a poem (or rewrote it) that told a little bit how I felt. It’s immortalized here, for all to read.
Thankfully, Michael Heisley, a billionaire from Chicago who actually had a number of businesses in Canada swooped in to save the day. Or so we thought. He tried to put on a good show, even singing our national anthem at one of the games. Behind the scenes, though, it was a different story. I actually had a friend who worked for the Grizzlies who said right from the start they were most definitely going to move the team. They failed to reach out to the business community, none of the new people hired bought houses in town, and no one tried to communicate with the season ticket holders. Long before there were rumblings of the team moving, my friend got a new job, knowing that his job with the Grizzlies wouldn’t be there for much longer. And he was right.
I still am adamant to this day, that Michael Heisley moved the team when he did because he was afraid that if the Grizzlies won the lottery the next season, they would be able to select Yao Ming. You see, the Lower Mainland (metropolitan Vancouver) has one of the largest Chinese populations in North America, and if it looked like Yao Ming was going to become a Grizzlie, Michael Heisley would not be able to say the team didn’t have the support to keep it in Vancouver. He had to move it when he did or he would be stuck there.
Flash forward seven years. While the Grizzlies did have a brief amount of success in Memphis by making the playoffs three years in a row, they never won a game in the playoffs. And like a cursed franchise, the team plummeted back to the basement where they have been for the majority of their time in the NBA. And despite finishing at, or near the bottom nearly every year, they’ve never won the lottery, so instead of being able to draft Yao Ming, they drafted Drew Gooden. Instead of Greg Oden, Kevin Durant or even Al Horford, they get Michael Conley. Instead of Blake Griffin, they get Hasheem Thabeet.
It’s hard to shed a tear for the team, especially when there are few actual fans to feel sorry for. Memphis, despite Heisley feeling that it was a better city for an NBA franchise than Vancouver, averages fewer fan than they did in Vancouver. Ouch!
Of course, what has happened this summer has pretty much sealed their future. While GM Chris Wallace apparently tries to reverse the bad karma the franchise has built up by helping out other teams trying to make trades (like the recent Turkoglu-Marion deal), you can only do so much when the owner is trying to run the team into the ground. First, he trades an expiring contract for Zach (THIS time it will be different) Randolph, who has had his last three teams try anything to trade him away, including taking guys who would be bought out (Steve Francis) and guys who couldn’t even play anymore due to a heart condition (Cuttino Mobley). And apparently they could have traded for Carlos Boozer, but Lionel Hollins didn’t feel he’d want to come to Memphis. This only a month after Memphis decides to draft Hasheem Thabeet instead of Ricky Rubio because HE didn’t want to play in Memphis. Are you starting to see the pattern here? Oh, and Thabeet then proceeded to tear up the summer league enough that many proclaimed him a bust, and those that didn’t, just said he was a long term prospect who would probably never have much of an offense. Yes, that’s what you want out of your second pick.
And now comes word that Hakim Warrick, whose qualifying offer was inexplicably rescinded making him an unrestricted free agent, was done not because of a decision from the front office or coaching staff, but from the owner, under the objections of his basketball people. This is the same guy who is looking at possibly adding Allen Iverson in order to boost attendance. Trying to build a winner apparently hasn’t occurred to him. Can you imagine Allen Iverson and Zach Randolph on the same team? Well, I guess he’s right. That’s something I’d pay to see.