The Memphis Grizzlies were born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1995. They, along with the Toronto Raptors, were part of both a National Basketball Association (NBA) expansion effort and an endeavor to spread professional hoops past its U.S. borders. While basketball seems to have taken hold in Toronto, it did not succeed in Vancover, and the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 2001. They play their home games at the FedEx Forum. The team’s head coach is former NBA player Marc Iavaroni.
The Vancouver Grizzlies entered the league at the same time as their brethren to the east (Toronto Raptors), but have never found similar success. As is the case with expansion teams, the Grizzlies were put together using two processes: the expansion draft (where players are chosen from various teams in the league) and the standard draft. The team’s first pick was Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, a big, classic back-to-the-basket center out of Oklahoma State. Although Reeves was a star in college, he was never better than average as a pro, and retired from the game in 2001. The Vancouver Grizzlies first season was typical for an expansion franchise; their 15-67 record was the worst in the NBA for the 1995-1996 season. They actually fared worse the following year, posting a 14-68 record. Things appeared to be looking up in 1997-98, when the team won 19 games, but the Vancouver Grizzlies only won eight games in the following lockout-shortened season. The Grizzlies drafted Maryland point guard Steve Francis in 1999, despite Francis repeatedly saying he would not go there. The guard forced the Grizzlies to make a three-team deal that sent Francis to the Houston Rockets. The team’s popularity dropped after the lockout, and this led to the Vancouver Grizzlies being moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 2001.
The Memphis Grizzlies
Several factors helped change the fortunes of the Memphis Grizzlies. First was the acquisition of star Spanish forward Pau Gasol, who had been drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Next was the hiring of general manager Jerry West. A Hall-of-Fame player for the L.A. Lakers (the NBA logo bears his silhouette), West went on to enjoy a highly successful career as a personnel man for the Lakers. He was considered one of the league’s smartest judges of talent and a major coup for the Grizzlies, who were still seeking their first playoff appearance. Gasol’s acquisition and West’s hiring paid almost immediate dividends. In the 2002-03 season, the Memphis Grizzlies racked up 28 wins, the highest total in franchise history. They destroyed that record in the following campaign, winning 50 games and making their first playoff appearance. Had they been moved to the Eastern Conference, they might have had a better chance at advancing. But they faced the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and lost in four games. The following season, the Grizzlies posted a 45-37 record, good enough to make it to the playoffs again. This time they lost to the Phoenix Suns, in another four-game sweep. In the 2005-06 season, the Memphis Grizzlies won 49 games en route to a third straight playoff appearance. However, they ran into the Dallas Mavericks, who sent the Grizz to a third straight first round sweep. The Grizzlies finished 22-60 the following season, after which Jerry West resigned as general manager. Not only have the Memphis Grizzlies yet to win a first-round series, they have yet to win a single first round game.
The Trade That Shook The West took place during the 2007-08 season. Pau Gasol, the only All-Star in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies, was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Kwame Brown (considered a bust by most NBA personnel people) and other lower-tier players. While other Western Conference contenders scrambled to make trades of their own, the Grizzlies limped along to another 22-win season.
With so many competitive teams in the West, a successful season for the Grizzlies would be a record at or near .500. Without their best player, even 42 wins seems beyond their reach. The Grizzlies hope some high-flying offense from rookie O.J. Mayo will bring fans to the FedEx forum and add some wins to their record.