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Grizzled Veterans As Vancouver ended its NBA run, classy fans gave the franchise better than it deserved

April 23, 2001
April 23, 2001

Table of Contents
April 23, 2001

Pro Football
Allen Iverson

Grizzled Veterans As Vancouver ended its NBA run, classy fans gave the franchise better than it deserved

A poll of players--published last Christmas in this very
magazine--named Vancouver Grizzlies fans the "stupidest" in the
NBA. Look at the evidence. "Fifteen thousand of us showed up
every night," says season-ticket holder Jack Scott, "for
basketball that was mostly s-----."

This is an article from the April 23, 2001 issue Original Layout

Vancouverites were never a good fit for the NBA, eh? "They're
friendly and polite," says two-time Grizzlies forward Tony
Massenburg, who so liked Vancouver that he returned,
voluntarily, as a free agent. "On the street they never say
crazy things to your face about the losing."

Seldom were Grizzlies propositioned in public to autograph the
augmented breasts of a groupie. "More people come up to you in a
mall in Indiana," says Grizzlies star forward Shareef
Abdur-Rahim, "than they do in Vancouver."

So the NBA will abandon these appalling ignoramuses sometime
this spring: All these fans did for six years (during which the
team was in the draft lottery every season) was buy tickets. The
Grizzlies played their final home game last Saturday night--a
near sellout of 18,571, of course--then gave fans the shirts off
their backs. Next season the team will almost certainly play in
Memphis, where Federal Express will reportedly pay $125 million
to call the club the Express, to festoon the players in FedEx
colors (orange and blue) and to retain naming rights to a $250
million arena financed largely by taxpayers, who would have no
say in the matter. Now that's basketball.

Whereas Vancouverites have a warped perspective on sports. Listen
to them: "Life will go on here," says superfan Scott, who spent
$136,000 over six years on season tickets. "Our fans will go out
with style and grace. There will be no acrimony. If there is,
I'll be embarrassed, because Canadians don't do that."

No wonder Americans never understood them. Acrimony &
Gracelessness are our personal attorneys. Rockets guard Steve
Francis, drafted by Vancouver, refused to play there because, he
said, God didn't want him to be a Grizzly. Ex-Grizz forward
George Lynch complained, hilariously, that there were no grocery
stores in Vancouver. Then there was forward Othella Harrington.
For almost two years Othella was Vancouver's Othello--"I will
wear my heart upon my sleeve"--complaining so chronically of the
weather that fans nicknamed him Rain Man. Asked if he was asking
to be traded, Rain Man replied, "I'm begging to be traded." In
March, Harrington was shipped to the Knicks from this harborside
hell, what Vancouver coach Sidney Lowe understatedly calls a
"clean city with little crime and great restaurants and a
million things to do."

Not every Grizzly whined his way onto a contender. Shareef
(loosely translated: "noble servant") has stayed for five years
and seen the team progress at the pace of plate tectonics.
Center Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, the only original Grizzly
remaining, has persevered long enough to tell a loonie from a
two-nie. "The loonie is the one-dollar coin," says Country, of
the loon-bedecked Canadian currency. "The two-nie is the
two-dollar coin that everyone bitches about because no vending
machines take it."

Alas, Grizzlies players are paid in strong American dollars,
while revenues are reaped in weaker loonies. The team was bought
last April by Chicago-based billionaire Michael Heisley, whose
conglomerate purveys everything from galvanized nails to salted
peanuts. Eleven months into his ownership Heisley announced his
plans to FedEx the Grizz to Graceland.

So two weeks ago, when Vancouver beat the Clippers for its 100th
alltime victory, "we gave the game ball to Country," says forward
Grant Long. "He's the only man who can say he won 100 games with
the Grizzlies. I don't think one [reporter] has asked him about
it."

We only take notice of time as it flees from us. The Grizzlies
are like that, too. They were derisively called "the Grizzle" on
SportsCenter. Last week a fan held a cardboard placard that said
GOODBYE CRUEL NBA. But not good riddance. "It was a thrill to see
the Celtics uniform here," says Scott, 64 and a Cousy fan from
way back. "The highlight, though, was Jordan. One night against
the Bulls we were up eight points with seven minutes left, and
everyone was thinking, Holy God, what is happening? Then Jordan
scored 19 points in seven minutes, and--as much as you hate to
lose--you couldn't help but appreciate that kind of human
excellence."

These are the fans we called the league's stupidest.

So farewell, Grizzle: We hardly knew ye. And Goodbye, Cruel NBA:
Vancouver, we thought, was never worthy of you.

In fact, it was the other way around.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: FRED HARPER