What really happened to the Vancouver Grizzlies? New film explores city’s short-lived NBA franchise

The Vancouver Grizzlies stepped onto an NBA court for the first time in November 1995, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 92-80 away from home.

But the city’s first professional basketball team wouldn’t stick around for long.

After just six seasons the franchise moved to Memphis, where it has remained ever since — leaving young fans like Kat Jayme wondering why.

Jayme was six years old when she started watching the Grizzlies. Now a filmmaker, she’s made it somewhat of a mission to document the impact the team had during its short tenure in Vancouver.

“I’m a childhood fan turned filmmaker,” she told On The Coast: host Gloria Makarenko.

“If I had one story in my career that I wanted to tell, it was the story of the Vancouver Grizzlies. They had such a huge impact in my life and I’ve always wanted to pay tribute to them.

“They inspired me to dream big.”

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Jayme’s latest documentary, The Grizzly Truth — which will be shown at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) on Oct. 1 and Oct. 5 — is her fourth film about the team.

In 2021 she released: Born Identities:which delves into the history of the logos of the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors; We The West, all about Grizzlies superfans, came out in 2019; and: Finding Big Country:a profile of team member Bryant (Big Country) Reeves screened at VIFF in 2018.

Her goal, she says, is to find out what really happened to the team — why they left the city so abruptly in 2001, leaving fans like Jayme reeling.

“There was a lot that was stacked up against the Grizzlies from the get-go,” Jayme said.

For the Grizzlies’ first three years, the NBA restricted the team from the first five overall draft picks, and its salary cap was limited for the first two.

Jayme said the inaugural team was made entirely out of expansion players — basically, players other teams didn’t want.

That was one apparent reason for their poor record in the league. After two wins in their first two games, the Grizzlies went on a 19-game losing streak, and went even worse in the second half of the season with a run of 23 straight defeats.

Over their six years in Vancouver, the Grizzlies won 101 games — and lost 359.

But Jayme said things were starting to turn around for the team.

“The thing that I learned throughout my journey is that the Grizzlies were actually getting better, but the plug was just pulled way too soon,” Jayme said.

Jayme wouldn’t go into detail about what she uncovered ahead of the screening, but said while the Grizzlies were getting good, they were also unlucky.

“To be successful, it takes a lot of hard work — but luck has to be on your side [as well]” she said.

Three basketball players wearing the Vancouver Grizzlies kit.
From left, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Bryant Reeves and Mike Bibby pose for a publicity shot in 1999. (Reuters)

In the documentary she talks with Stu Jackson, the team’s general manager for its first five seasons, who she says took a lot of heat for the team’s lack of success.

“As fans, we have all these ideas of what they should have done or what they didn’t do. But we weren’t the general manager, so who are we to put blame on them?” Jayme said.

Reeves, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Mike Bibby are former Grizzlies players listed as appearing in the film.

On The Coast:6:17 a.mNew documentary about the former Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team explores the 20 year old mystery of the team’s departure to Memphis

It may be more than 20 years since Vancouver had an NBA team, but for a lot of people, the team’s departure is still a sore spot.

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