#20in20 Night: Grizzlies Night
By Alfred De Vera
When the Grizzlies Roared
These days when residents in Vancouver say they’re going to watch the grizzlies play, they are most likely referencing the process of taking a gondola up to Grouse Mountain and watching cubs wrestle at the wilderness sanctuary. But 20 years ago, saying this meant coming to Rogers Arena (then GM Place) to watch the NBA’s newest expansion club, the Grizzlies, take on the likes of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls or Gary Payton and the Seattle Supersonics. Coinciding with the opening of the brand new GM Place, the Vancouver Grizzlies debuted during the 1995-96 season with tremendous excitement and optimism. But as the story goes, the Grizzlies had a short and tumultuous stint in Vancouver underscored by a disappointing .2196 win percentage over their six seasons of existence (101-359).
While there are still bad memories and only small visible traces of the Grizzlies time in Vancouver left intact (most notably the high ceilings in their former locker rooms at Rogers Arena) there are some indelible moments that fans can reminisce with fondness.
Some might recall the Grizzlies first ever regular season game where Vancouver’s 11th pick in the expansion draft, Benoit Benjamin, scored 29 points to lead the team to victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Others may remember two nights later when the Grizzlies played their home opener in front of a sold-out crowd at GM Place, and went on to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves with a last second bucket at the buzzer in overtime.
Of course, most diehard fans will remember at least one or more of the extraordinary performances that Grizzlies franchise cornerstone Shareef Abdur-Rahim put up on a given night. “Reef” as he was often called, averaged over 20 points per game in four of his five seasons with the Grizzlies and was without question the highlight in games and seasons full of lowlights. For instance, on February 23, 1999 at GM Place, Reef had 28 points and 14 rebounds to single-handedly will his team to victory over a Los Angeles Lakers squad touting future Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Reef’s sidekick for three seasons in Vancouver was 1998 No. 2 overall selection Mike Bibby who those same diehards will remember as fondly for his scorer’s mentality and flare for making plays as needed. This was on full display in just his third game as a Grizzly where Bibby put up 18 points and 12 assists playing in a game-high 41 minutes to lead Vancouver to their first victory of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers.
For those attending the Canucks vs. Flyers game on Monday (Nov. 2nd), we welcome you to wear both your Grizzlies & Canucks colours with pride, as we celebrate the energy and excitement the Vancouver Grizzlies once brought to Vancouver!
Since the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001, Rogers Arena has hosted numerous NBA preseason games and most recently served as the venue for the Toronto Raptors preseason opener versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Current Clippers coach Doc Rivers was a player on the San Antonio Spurs during the Grizzlies inaugural season and later served as coach of the Orlando Magic in the team’s final season in Vancouver. Like many players and coaches who visited Vancouver during the Grizzlies relatively brief existence in the NBA, Rivers remembers the good times more than the bad.
“I miss Vancouver, may be the better way of saying that,” Rivers said to a scrum of reporters prior to his team’s preseason tipoff at Rogers Arena on October 4th. “It’s just a great city. It really is. It’s vibrant. It’s just nice. It deserves a team…”
While ‘watching grizzlies play’ will likely conjure for most, the same mental image of bears on Grouse Mountain, for a select few this will always bring up memories of a time in Vancouver sports history where the bright lights of the NBA shone through, for better or worse.
5 Things you Didn’t Know About the Grizzlies:
- They were originally going to be called the “Vancouver Mounties”, but were persuaded to change their name by the RCMP.
- The Grizzlies played their first game on November 5, 1995.
- They were the first NBA team to have a website, built by Bob Kerstein, in 1995.
- Shareef Abdur-Rahim was selected the third overall in the 1996 draft. Shareef was later named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
- Grizzlies are indigenous to British Columbia. However, after being relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, the team kept its name—despite the fact that there are no grizzly bears in Memphis.