NBA owners approve Grizzlies’ move to Memphis


The Vancouver Grizzlies are moving to Memphis after NBA owners gave unanimous approval to the move Tuesday, in the league’s first franchise relocation since the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985. The league’s Board of Governors also approved the sale of a minority interest in the team to a group of Memphis-based investors led by J.R. “Pitt” Hyde III and his wife, Barbara. Hyde is founder of AutoZone, an auto parts company. “We are gratified by the community’s enthusiasm and remarkable level of support for the Grizzlies,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. The Grizzlies were added to the NBA as an expansion team April 27, 1994 and began playing in 1995, winning their first game at Portland 92-80 with a roster that included Benoit Benjamin, Kenny Gattison and Blue Edwards. That was one of just 15 victories in the franchise’s first season, and the team continued to struggle after that, winning just 14 the next season, then going 19-63 in their third year. Vancouver won just eight of 50 games in the lockout season of 1998-99. They improved to 22-60 in 1999-2000 and 23-59 last season. Vancouver never made it to the playoffs and used lottery draft picks for Bryant Reeves, Shareef Abdul-Rahim, Antonio Daniels, Mike Bibby, Steve Francis and Stromile Swift. Francis was immediately traded to Houston after the 1999 draft in a three-way trade that involved 10 players. Last week, Bibby was traded to Sacramento for Jason Williams. Also, the Grizzlies reached agreement with the Hawks on a trade sending Abdur-Rahim to Atlanta for Lorenzen Wright, Brevin Knight and the third choice in the draft — F.C. Barcelona forward Pau Gasol. Owner Michael Heisley purchased the Grizzlies from John McCaw for US$160 million on April 11, 2000. In Heisley’s first season as owner, he projected losses of about US$46 million. The team averaged just over 13,000 fans per game, down 2 percent from the previous year, playing to 70 percent of capacity. Heisley began shopping for a new home for his franchise and early in the process said he was looking at six cities: Las Vegas; Anaheim, California; St. Louis; New Orleans; Louisville, Kentucky; and Memphis. Memphis will be the smallest market in the NBA and the Grizzlies will play temporarily in The Pyramid, a US$65 million arena opened in 1991, until a new arena is built. The Pyramid seats 19,000 for basketball. The decision ends years of searching for a major league sports franchise for Memphis. In 1974 and 1993, the city was a finalist for NFL expansion teams, but lost out both times. The former Houston Oilers used Memphis as a temporary home in 1997 before moving in 1998 to Nashville, where they became the Titans.