Is Vancouver Ready for an NBA Expansion Team?

G'day to all my friends out there within the Sports Talk Social tribe. Yesterday I wrote about how Louisville could host the next NBA expansion city. Today we head north to Canada to check out how Vancouver can host the next NBA expansion franchise and it wouldn't be for the first time either.

The Vancouver Grizzlies joined the NBA as an expansion team in the 1995-96 season alongside the Toronto Raptors. After only six seasons the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis at the end of the 2000-01 season. Will the NBA expand into Vancouver? First let's take a look at where things went wrong the first time.

The NBA was looking to grow outside of America in the early 90's. In 1995 the league expanded into Canada's two most populated cities with the addition of the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies.

The Raptors had high initial attendances and then gained worldwide popularity on the back of Vince Carter’s arrival in 1998. Vancouver on the other hand failed after six seasons. There are many reasons the Vancouver Grizzlies failed and it began with the fact that many local businesses didn't support the Grizzlies. The franchise wasn't locally owned following the sale by Arthur Griffiths to Seattle businessman John McCaw Jr. in 1997. In addition, no player ever made the All-Star team while the franchise was in Vancouver and therefore corporate sponsorship was difficult to attract.

Average home attendances started strong at General Motors Place with an average of more than 17,000 during their first season and good enough for 14th best in the league. By the last couple of seasons however, attendances had started dwindling to below 14,000 because of poor performance which resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue. Vancouver in fact never managed a winning season and the franchise would finish with an overall record of 101-359, a 23-59 their best record in their final season.

The franchise had no hope in Vancouver with the bad contracts they dished out. The Grizzlies used the 6th pick of the 1995 NBA Draft on Bryant Reeves; picked ahead of Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett. Reeves was then signed to a $64 million, 6-year contract. The return? Reeves never became an All-Star and averaged less than 10-points a game. He also developed weight problems and a poor field goal percentage. Chronic back injuries led to Reeves retiring in 2001 which meant his career spanned the period that the Grizzlies were in Vancouver.

Vancouver had no luck when it came to the draft further spiralling the franchise out of control. Despite finishing with the worst record in the NBA three-times, the Grizzlies never received the first pick of the NBA draft. They also had the opportunity to select Steve Nash, Ray Allen or Kobe Bryant in 1996 but selected Shareef Abdur-Rahim with the third pick instead. During their existence, Tracy McGrady, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Richard Hamilton and Vince Carter were all on the board when making a draft pick; depressing for Vancouver considering that Carter put the Toronto Raptors on the map.

The 1998-99 NBA lockout further crippled the Grizzlies. The lockout impacted the leagues popularity and in a further blow, Michael Jordan retired for the second time. NBA attendances had dropped 2%, sales of NBA merchandise had plummeted and TV ratings were in free fall. In the space of just two seasons after the lockout, Vancouver's attendances plummeted 15% and was one of the main financial impacts to the franchise.

In 2000 the ownership of the Grizzlies had changed hands to Chicago businessman Michael Heisley. A year later, the Grizzlies would move to Memphis with Vancouver having the third-worst league attendance at the time of their relocation. The franchise in Vancouver was losing an estimated $40 million in their final year; a weak Canadian dollar further compounding the issue.

It's a different era now to when the Grizzlies left Vancouver and here's why an NBA team can return to the city. The metro population of Vancouver has grown by more than half a million since the team relocated to Memphis and the Rogers Arena is NBA ready with a capacity of close to 20,000. The city and its citizens are also wealthier, with three of the top 20 richest Canadians having links to Vancouver.

Vancouver is also the third largest North American market with only one major professional sports team, behind only San Diego and Montreal. It's also a diverse and international city which fits in with the NBA's global brand. In 2018 a Raptors preseason game held in Vancouver sold out in 20 minutes, with a highly energised crowd getting behind Toronto. A group of fans notably held a large sign which read 'VancouverWantsNBA'. With the lessons learnt with the original Grizzlies franchise, the city of Vancouver has what it takes to return to the NBA.

All the way from the Land Down Under, I created Wolfgang Sport as I enjoy writing and watching British and American sports. Started in 2017, I started the blog as a way to connect my passion for sports in the US & UK. Sign up to the newsletter today_ and I'll prove Aussies know more about your own sports than you think.


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Seems like a logical move if you ask, although I am not an NBA expert therefore I am not aware of the cons as you might do. But from what you laid out, third largest North American market, it also seems fair that they get another team in.

Great post. I didn't think I'd understand anything about the NBA, but the way you laid it out worked for me.

I've never really understood taking franchises back to cities that already tried and failed at one but it happens a lot so it must just be a management issue of some sort. There was a lot of information in that article of yours that I didn't know about Vancouver because I wasn't really paying attention to them while it was going on. Thanks for that as I do enjoy learnin' new stuff!

I remember Vancouver Grizzlies mascot growing up, always was a fan of the way that bear looked haha

But it's hard seeing the Grizzlies moving out of Memphis right now. They've had some success in the last decade with the Grit n Grind Grizz of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen. Now they have one of the brightest stars in the league in Ja Morant. I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for the team in Memphis. And moving them back to a previous market where they failed might seem ill-advised

But who knows, maybe another struggling team might be able to scoop them and relocate to Vancouver. I think a team is more likely to land in Seattle or Las Vegas before it lands in Vancouver though