The Grizzlies’ lack of success is no secret, but there’s a surprising dearth of positivity to mention here.
The Vancouver Grizzlies entered the NBA a decade and a half ago, at the same time as the Toronto Raptors. In that time, the Raptors have parlayed moderate, but by no means spectacular, team success into an immensely loyal fan base and an enduring relationship with the city of Toronto.
Vancouver on the other hand, received the same treatment that Seattle was forced to endure seven years later with Clay Bennett and the Supersonics—the fact that no one really cared about them.
The team survived just six seasons before lackluster attendance made keeping the team in Vancouver financially unviable. Waning attendance across the league thanks to the 1998 lockout certainly played a role, but it’s safe to assume the Grizzlies’ inability to win more than 28% of their games in a season was also a key driver.
Although they kicked off the 1995-96 season by winning the first two games in franchise history, the Grizzlies won just 13 of their next 80 games- including a record-tying 23-game losing streak, and finished with a league-worst 15-67 record.
The following years were not much better, as the team won just 33 games over the next two seasons combined, and turned in an 8-42 record in the lockout shortened 1999 season. This set the stage for a “breakout” run of 22 and 23 wins in the next two seasons, after which the team was relocated to Memphis.
Combine this on-court ineptitude with a string of generally uninspiring draft picks, and fans had little to get excited about. As good as Shareef Abdur-Rahim was in his days with the Grizz, the likes of Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Antonio Daniels and Stromile Swift weren’t exactly capturing the imaginations of Canadian hoops junkies.
Hell, Steve Francis cried at the draft after being selected by the Grizzlies, and flat-out refused to play for the team.
In 2000, with the team for sale, the initial stance by the NBA was that the Grizzlies would not be allowed to leave Vancouver. In fact, a sale to Bill Laurie, then-owner of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, was rejected after Laurie admitted to wanting to move the team to St. Louis. Manufacturing mogul Michael Heisley subsequently bought the Grizzlies, promised to keep the team in Vancouver, and moved the franchise to Memphis after just one season in charge.
The 2001-02 season, the Grizzlies’ first in Memphis, saw the arrival of Pau Gasol, acquired in a draft day trade in exchange for Shareef Adbur-Rahim, accompanied by three consecutive seasons of franchise records in victories. It was during this run, led by Gasol, Jason Williams, Bonzi Wells and Mike Miller, that the Grizz posted their only three winning seasons and made the first playoff appearances in their history. However, despite boasting one of the game’s best big men and solid corps of supporting players on the perimeter, the Grizzlies have nothing to show for three straight playoff trips except for an 0-12 postseason record.
As the best stretch in franchise history ran its course, Gasol was shipped to the Lakers for a less-than-overwhelming package that included super-bust Kwame Brown and Pau’s younger brother, Marc.
The younger Gasol has shown the capacity to be a top-flight NBA big man, and combined with Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley, makes up the foundation of what should be a solid team in the coming years.
As we move through the Grizzlies’ all-time five, with one notable exception, you’ll quickly notice a theme emerging, the case for every player considered can be easily perforated. Rarely in Grizzlies’ franchise history has individual brilliance been accompanied by team success, and vice versa.