The Memphis Grizzlies … The NBA Comes to Tennessee
Fifteen years ago, the NBA (National Basketball Association) decided to expand its roster of teams into Canada, a neighboring country, of course, with a growing love for the sport. This desire for yet another expansion (there had been several other expansions since the league opened for business in 1948) was the motivating factor.
Two new teams entered the league. One of them became a franchise that would operate out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Initially, this new team decided to call itself the Vancouver Mounties. That name had to be scrapped when the real Mounties, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) objected strenuously to the use of the nickname and threatened legal action.
The ownership of the new team feared the negative publicity and quickly changed the team’s nickname – from Mounties to Grizzlies. And that nickname has remained with the team up until the present. As is almost always the case with expansion sports franchises, the team’s first year roster was made up of unwanted players from the established teams. These castaways and throwaways and unwanted marginal bench players were not competitive.
The first year expansion team from Vancouver set a record for losses for a first year team. Interestingly, and this is something that also happens to new sports franchise, the Grizzlies did not improve significantly during their first five years in the league. They continued to post losing records each season and Canadian sports fans chose not to spend their hard-earned Canadian dollars to watch them play.
Poor attendance exacerbated by the fact that Vancouver and all Canadian cities are “hockey towns” hurt the franchise severely and prompted team owners to apply to the league for the right to relocate to another city. Permission was granted and the Vancouver Grizzlies became the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001 … just five years after opening their arena in Vancouver.
Now, Memphis is a nice American city, but it had never been home to any professional sports franchise. So, from the start there was concern that the citizens of this lively southern city would support the team. As it turned out, there was little need for concern. The Memphis Grizzlies became a hit and have remained so for close to the ten years that they’ve played their home games in Memphis.
Importantly, while they have never won a division championship, a conference championship or a world title, the Grizzlies have had some success. The team won an impressive fifty games in the 2003-2004 Season and made its way into the league playoffs. Unfortunately, they lost in the first round to the Dallas Mavericks, but they made the playoffs and that was looked upon as progress.
The Grizzlies won forty-five games the next year and made the playoffs again, then won 49 games in the 2005-2006 Season and enjoyed its third straight trip to the playoffs. They haven’t been able to go deep into the playoffs, but there are many ways to measure success.
And this still-young franchise is beginning to feel its oats. It certainly appears that the future is bright for the Memphis Grizzlies.