When you’re in college and attend a party of any kind, throwback jerseys are seen everywhere. Seattle SuperSonics, New Jersey Nets, and of course, the Vancouver Grizzlies. And though the franchise has spent the past two decades in Memphis, the Grizzlies have decided over the last few years to embrace their Vancouver routes.
There is no question that the jerseys are terrific. But there is a bit of a problem. During their six years in Vancouver, the franchise averaged fewer than 19 wins per year. The most they had a single season was going 23-59 in the final campaign before the move to Memphis. So while there is no issue with the jerseys, it’s a history worth forgetting.
If not for having brilliant uniforms, the Vancouver Grizzlies would be the most irrelevant team in NBA history. They have gotten a lot right in Memphis. But they got nothing right back then.
No Stability in the Coaching Ranks
During their six years in Vancouver, the Grizzlies went through five head coaches. Nobody was able to help them win, and none of them quite knew what to do with the mismatched roster. There were so many holes, and the veteran players weren’t doing enough to help them find wins.
Their first coach, Brian Winters, went 23-92 on the job. The team’s executive and one-time Knicks coach, Stu Jackson, stepped, and they went 6-33 during his time at the end of the 96-97 season. They tried Bob Hill as the coach next, and it was nothing like Orlando, where he took the team to the Finals. They went 31-123 under his watch. Yikes and more yikes.
Future Memphis Grizzlies interim and full-time head coach Lionel Hollins got a chance after Hill was fired, and the team was 18-42 under his watch. The final coach in Vancouver history and then coach of the Memphis team in year one was Sidney Lowe.
Lowe was the Minnesota head coach when he was 33 years old, and in two years, that team went 33-102. In Vancouver, he helped them go 23-59. He would go 23-67 over his next 90 games in Memphis, but it’s about the Vancouver era. And it’s a big yikes.
Year by Year Leaders
Here’s a great trivia question. Who led the Vancouver Grizzlies in scoring during their inaugural season? Nobody would venture to guess Greg Anthony. He averaged 14.0 ppg, while Bryant “Big Country” Reeves averaged 13 points and seven rebounds per, as the expansion team went 15-67.
After drafting Shareef Abdur-Rahim in the 1996 draft, the Grizzlies found something special. He averaged 19 points and seven rebounds as a rookie. Reeves improved his totals to 16 points and eight boards per game. Anthony Peeler averaged 14 points and was a sniper. But they had an even worse record at 14-68.
The 1997-98 season saw the team go 19-63. A tiny bit better. Abdur-Rahim put up 22 points and seven boards, while Reeves continues to play well with 16 and eight boards again. They opted to take Antonio Daniels in the lottery, and he averaged just eight points and four assists before being part of a trade in the offseason. They could have had Tracy McGrady. Oops.
During the lockout-shortened 1998-19 season, the Grizzlies managed just eight wins in 50 games. 8-42. Brian Hill could do nothing with the roster. This was Mike Bibby’s rookie year, but injuries started to plague Reeves, and they had a lot of holes. The coolest thing was that they had a player named DeJuan Wheat. One of the best athlete names of all time. He only made 38% of his shots, sadly. More of a cool name than an effective player.
During the 1999-2000 season, Michael Dickerson emerged as Bryant Reeves’ game was tailing off. He averaged 18 points per game and looked to possibly be a #2 option behind Abdur-Rahim. Mike Bibby averaged 15 points and eight assists. But at 22-60, the team was still showing absolutely no signs, regardless of who the coach was.
There was one more Vancouver season. The 2000-01 season. Sidney Lowe was the coach. It was Mike Bibby’s and also Abdur Rahim’s final year as a Grizzly. The 2000 NBA Draft was not a good one by any stretch, but the team still whiffed. Stromile Swift was terrific in the NCAA tournament, and so it landed him as the No. 2 pick by the Grizzlies. He never panned out. Another disastrous season as the team went 23-59.
Were there ever any highs for the Grizzlies in their existence? The only good thing they ever did was win their first two games during the 95-96 season. They were 2-0 all-time. It’s too bad that they would only win 99 more games over five years and 80 games.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s talent was wasted as the team showed zero signs of improvement over five years. Mike Bibby didn’t miss a single game in three years and yet had nothing to show for his time there. Bryant Reeves retired after that final year in Vancouver due to chronic back issues.
At least they had Pau Gasol to look forward to once they got to Memphis. They made the playoffs within three years.
From my perspective, writing this piece, it seemed that there was no positivity with the Vancouver Grizzlies. They won only 22% of their games in six years. No one coach was able to turn it around. They botched numerous lottery picks. And they were never too high in attendance.
It was not a fun time. But hey, at least they had nice uniforms, right?
Thank you for Reading
Well, you’ve made it to the end! Thank you for reading. I’ve been enjoying putting these Flashback Friday pieces together in recent weeks as a nice form reminiscing.
I hope that the nostalgia you were craving could be met by reading this. Plenty more to come. I’m just getting started.