Give it up to the Grizz (Vancouver Sun)

Give it up to the Grizz

It’s too early to write an epitaph for a team that deserves a fighting chance to taste success


Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2001

I may be in denial, but I just don’t believe the Grizzlies are going anywhere, with the exception of their usual downward spiral to oblivion.

Last year, when Bill Laurie attempted to buy the Bears but wouldn’t commit to Vancouver, the local press started yawping about the end of NBA basketball in Vancouver. Reading the coverage, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind the team would wind up in St. Louis in a matter of months. It didn’t happen. I may have been the only one who didn’t believe they were moving then, and I still don’t believe it now.

Why should I? The NBA cannot be that naïve or gullible and owner Michael Heisley cannot be that duplicitous. Despite Heisley’s constant whining about losses, nothing has changed significantly since he bought the team from John McCaw less than one year ago. In any area.

And the NBA, ultimately, must realize this, too. Despite his perceived good intentions, Heisley would have to be a miracle worker to change the fortunes of this sad-sack franchise in less than a season.

According to the team’s 2000-01 media guide, Heisley’s Heico Acquisitions Inc. “acts as an investment firm, specializing in buying interests in under-performing companies and turning them around.” The Grizzlies fit this profile to a technical foul but where’s the turnaround? Obviously if they haven’t reversed their fortunes in half a season, they never will, right? And the altruistic Heisley has done all he could do.

The media guide tells us, after all, “… the Grizzles have significantly bolstered their roster this off-season, adding talent and depth to their bench through free agent signings and trades….” The crack management team assembled in the off-season was crafty enough to pick up two players who hadn’t played in the league (or elsewhere) for two seasons, so they should be well-rested.

But Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (4.5 points per game) and Kevin Edwards (4.1 ppg) seldom get off the bench. Ike Austin (4.7 ppg) was due for a rebound season after being a bust in Orlando and Washington the last two seasons while earning over $5 million a year. It’s not management’s fault they’re not performing. What more could it do?

I’m not a businessman, but I did pass Economics 100 at UVic with a D. This is my take on the situation. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is a reported billionaire. How many billions he has, I don’t know. But even if he has one billion, that’s one thousand million!

Think about it. For him to lose $50 million (a highly disputed figure, by the way) in a season is the equivalent of you or me taking a grand to Vegas and dropping 50 bucks.

What’s the problem, Mike? You’d still have $950 million left. And it’s not as if his other businesses aren’t making money to compensate, i.e. he ain’t going broke, folks.

I’m reminded of the line from Citizen Kane where Charles Foster Kane is being advised by his accountant to drop his newspaper enterprise because he’s losing a million dollars. I’m going from memory here, but Kane’s response is, “So I lose a million dollars? I’ll lose a million next year, too, and the year after that. And you know what? In 65 years I’ll be broke!”

Providing he has only one billion now and makes no more money from any other source for the rest of his life and loses $50 million for real a year, that would last 20 years. Have you seen the guy? Not exactly your picture of health. He needn’t worry.

As for that $50-million figure, the NBA should hire an objective forensic accountant so we can be sure this is not a case of fuzzy book keeping or money laundering.

NBA commissioner David Stern has given Heisley the go-ahead to seek other cities for relocation. Granted, it doesn’t sound encouraging. But under Stern’s 17-year reign, no franchise has changed locations, a fact he’s fiercely proud of. Teams have tried to relocate and he’s put the kibosh on it.

Stern says Vancouver’s business community implicitly agreed to support the Grizzlies and hasn’t come through. Again, I want to point out my lack of business acumen, but I would think savvy businessmen would want promises in the explicit category. One man’s implicit is another man’s “Huh?”

Businesses, like most fans, back a winner. And like Mr. Heisley, Vancouver business folk didn’t go into business to lose money. Put the Grizzlies with their pathetic 5.5-year record of 92-336 in any U.S. city and you’ll see apathy in action. Conversely, put Vince Carter and the Raptors here in Vancouver, and you’d see sell-outs and businesses hopping on board like they were giving out free corporate welfare.

Cities like Dallas and Orlando, with good teams, are experiencing low attendance: What makes the NBA think an Anaheim or New Orleans will show up in force to watch the Grizzlies blow it night after night, year after year?

Here’s why I’m saying the team stays: Any proposed move by a franchise has to be voted on by the NBA board of governors. How bad would it look for the association to move a failing franchise only to have it fail somewhere else? And with the management the Grizzlies have had over the years, including this one, there’s no reason to believe the team will get any better anywhere else.

It doesn’t help to have the local media acting as this is a foregone conclusion. The league just fined Grizzlies’ president Dick Versace for comments he made about the Toronto situation. They know that constant fear of failure can hurt the box office. What they fail to realize is that’s all we’ve had here from the beginning. “Is the team staying or going? It can’t possibly succeed,” etc. How can a business flourish in that climate?

The Grizzlies may very well leave, but it’s still conjecture at this point. My prediction is the league will do the honourable thing and give Vancouver a fighting chance, something we haven’t yet had.

If the city won’t support an exciting team with even an outside chance of making the playoffs, let alone a contender, then maybe a move would be understandable. But we’ve never been give than chance.

Guy MacPherson covers the Grizzlies for Associated Press.