Editor's note: give a big Grizzly Bear Blues welcome to Kevin Yeung, who's coming on board as a contributor this season. He is currently on the team at Welcome to Loud City, but... as you'll see from this excellent piece, he belongs here.
I don't know that there are a lot of Grizzlies fans in Vancouver. I'm one of them, and it's a weird experience. Seeing them make franchise history this season then get swept in embarrassing fashion by the Spurs was not an emotional ride I shared with many people from around here. But, let's start from the beginning, shall we?
Obviously, the Grizzlies broke into the NBA here in Vancouver as one of the Canadian expansion teams in 1995, alongside the Toronto Raptors. This was actually an year before I was born (I'm younger than your typical basketball blogger, probably), and well before I was interested in the actual game of basketball, which was closer to around 2006-2007.
I can't actually tell you much of anything substantial about those Grizzlies. Just how bad a team they were was entirely lost on me, and I can't say much about the way any of their players played. The closest thing to formulated thoughts that I had about those Grizzlies were that they had a) Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, b) Shareef Abdur-Rahim and c) pretty jerseys.
(Note: Those jerseys are, to date, my favorite NBA jerseys of all-time. They even top the Celtics' timeless classics, the Milwaukee Bucks' green-and-purple retros with the actual deer on them, and the multiple recolored retro jerseys that the Cavaliers wore in the 2009-10 season.)
I liked Big Country because they called him Big Country and because he was really big. I liked Shareef Abdur-Rahim because he had a funny name on the back of his jersey and because he put the ball in the basket a lot (this is as deep as my basketball analysis went back then). After those two, I don't really remember anyone from that era of the Grizzlies, even though I spent a fair amount of time sitting in front of the TV watching the teal jerseys for a five-year old. I never had any Grizzlies memorabilia, and I didn't grow up in a household that paid much attention to sports. It's probably for the best that I didn't know too much about the rest of the team back then. One realizes pretty quickly from looking at the Basketball-Reference pages that those teams were BAD.
Eventually, the Grizzlies moved to Memphis. I remembered this as kind of a sad time, although at that age sports weren't really high on my list of things to feel sad about. I adopted the next-closest team, the Seattle SuperSonics, as "my team". I wasn't particularly attached to them or any other basketball team until around the 2006-07 season, though (which, naturally, ended with the Sonics moving to Oklahoma City.).
But this was around the time that I started to care about basketball. I didn't return to the Grizzlies right away, since they weren't ever on TV. I was lured by Kevin Garnett's Celtics, LeBron James' Cavaliers, and Steve Nash's Suns at first, since those were the teams I saw on TV. Somewhere along the way, I did re-discover the Grizzlies. They had an exciting young player in Rudy Gay. I watched Rudy Gay highlights on YouTube (that new thing, YouTube!).
Flash forward to around 2009, which was when I was beginning to establish opinions on basketball. My interest in the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Suns was waning fast. The former-Sonics were suddenly good with Kevin Durant. The last team in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Trail Blazers, were exciting with their trio of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Grizzlies were still struggling and not on TV often, so my identity as a NBA fan was still developing.
A few years later, I was all-in on the Thunder and the Blazers. Also, the Grizzlies made the playoffs! I had a trio of teams that I actually cared about and was invested in (as well as the Toronto Raptors, which were and still are force-fed to us by Canadian sports networks).
Between the old habit of rooting for the Grizzlies and the new "grit-and-grind" persona they were taking on, the Grizzlies slowly established themselves as the top dog in my NBA team hierarchy. The run-ins with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs are a little awkward for me, but I'm committed to the Grizzlies all the way.
Around me, though, not many people cared for the Grizzlies. Vancouver is a hockey town, and everyone supports the Canucks. Hell, I do too. With basketball, everyone picks their own team somehow and rolls with them. I know Blazers fans, Heat fans, Bulls fans, Knicks fans, Lakers fans and Celtics fans (our NBA viewing experience is limited to nationally televised games and the Raptors). Not many people really have any emotional ties left with the Grizzlies. Few bother to even dislike Memphis for "stealing" our team (I've never been one to think of it that way). Certainly, not anyone that I know from my age group cares much about the Grizz. I can't imagine it helps that the Grizzlies were here for just six seasons and were awful in each of them.
It took a peculiar path for me to become a Grizzlies fan today, I guess. Watch and remember the shitty local team as a kid for their teal jerseys and the name/nickname of two of their players. Re-discover them ten years later as a small market team, and somehow find your way back to the fandom. Whatever–this is a team that came to Vancouver, sucked for six seasons, and then packed its bags for Memphis to be bad for another few years. It was probably going to take an unconventional path one way or another to being a Grizzlies fan in Vancouver.
I'm that rare dude that will swear by the Memphis Grizzlies. Grit and grind means something special to me. Marc Gasol is one of my favorite players in the NBA. Somehow, Quincy Pondexter is too. Mike Conley and Tony Allen are my two favorite guards to watch play defense. I have an obsession with the high-low offense that might be kind of weird, actually. The optimist in me says the Grizzlies go to the Finals this season, though the realist in me predicts a fifth-seed and a second-round exit to the Thunder (side-note: I think I'd prefer the sixth seed to the fifth seed this season).
I remember this blog used to be named "Straight Outta Vancouver". It's different now, but I'm probably one of the few that'll really value the connection to Vancouver that this team has. Navy blue isn't quite as great as teal, but if this team wins a ring, I'll be proud to represent "Memphis" in Vancouver.