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Grizzled Veterans
Steve Rushin
April 23, 2001
As Vancouver ended its NBA run, classy fans gave the franchise better than it deserved
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April 23, 2001

Grizzled Veterans

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

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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——-."

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 harbor-side 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."

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