Basketball Ghost Town: Reflections of a Grizzlies Fan


Vancouver’s a weird place to be a basketball fan.

We had, inarguably, one of the worst teams in the NBA….and now we no longer have a team at all.

As British Columbia’s millenials (I won’t say that word again here, I promise), our collection of childhood souvenirs almost always featured some sort of Grizzlies memorabilia. And now in 2013, the Grizzlies are a buried language that hipsters and non-hipsters alike are fighting to preserve and re-introduce in to the city’s conversations. From the black and teal snapback of the local bike mechanic, to the amazing parody Twitter account @bryantreeves50 , the nostalgic pull of the Vancouver NBA franchise is getting stronger. Even still, the legend of our basketball team still hangs like the promise of the Great Pumpkin; as if wearing their jerseys and hanging their posters will have made the franchise a success, or even bring them back.

In 1995, Canada suddenly acquired 2 basketball teams (Raptors, obv), and coming off Michael Jordan’s recent retirement, it was an exciting time to be a kid who maybe, sort of, liked basketball. For the team’s six seasons I was aged 6-12, so the piddly numbers and shitty stats didn’t affect how stoked my brother and I could get at a game. We were losing the majority of the time, and never once made the playoffs, but it didn’t matter. Seeing Big Country in person was like seeing Santa at the mall.  And it didn’t help after the 1996 draft when star forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim came in as the New Hope. I’m also pretty sure that one of my first crushes was point guard Mike Bibby, but I digress!

When I talk to my dad about the Grizzlies now, it’s very different than it was then.  Like a lot of things I loved as a kid (that my parents later admitted they didn’t like), I assumed everyone was as excited about the team as I was, and that everyone involved was having the time of their lives.

Little did I know that the team actually hated it here: Reeves missed small town Oklahoma, Steve Francis looked like a kid that dropped his ice cream when the Grizzlies picked him in the 1999 draft (he rejected the opportunity almost immediately), and the 1998 lock-out was seen as a small victory for the team. The numbers weren’t there in the fans, either. Shoppers Drug Mart had to buy 2500 seats just to get us our first season.

It was magic to me and my brother, but it was a tedious failure for everyone else.

So why, now,  is the Grizzlies logo popping up on every snapback in the Lower Mainland? Why is Twitter now home to a growing grassroots movement to bring the NBA back to Vancouver? Why are we suddenly celebrating a team that met its maker over 10 years ago?

Maybe, like a lot of things, it’s the appeal of hipster irony. Oh, it’s just this NBA team, you’ve probably never heard of them. Maybe it’s the shift in urban demographics, where Vancouver is now home to more would-be basketball fans than it was in 1995. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things, plus the realization that our stronger Canadian dollar, world-class venue at Rogers Arena, and expansive potential fan base are exactly what the NBA would need in a successful basketball city.

The petition aiming to bring the NBA back to Vancouver (initiated by – who else – “NBA Vancouver”) has over 1500 signatures, and has been sent to Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini and NBA commissioner David Stern. It’s not the first time the idea has come up to Mr. Stern, who moved the Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001. He has publicly acknowledged his regrets in “the Vancouver experience,” centering mainly around the NBA’s handling of the franchise. “I think that [Vancouver] was a great city,” he said in a 2008 ESPN podcast. “We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.”

Regardless of whether an NBA team happens in Vancouver again, we know The Vancouver Grizzlies will never happen again. Maybe getting a proper NBA team in the city wouldn’t work out either, and for different reasons. The extensive circumstances that made the Vancouver Grizzlies a symbol of failure to the NBA is part of what makes it special: a unique and playful memory that disappeared as quickly as it arrived, with names and colours  that will remain unique to our city. And now there’s a generation of young Vancouverite adults who once truly believed in their team. The bear with the basketball in its paw symbolizes an anchoring to the city; it’s an emblem of the city’s history, a punchline in the legacy of the NBA, and a nod to any passerby that you once believed in Vancouver’s Great Pumpkin.

Feature Image sourced on Google.


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