Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Vancouver Grizzlies Against the Seattle Supersonics

Huh?  The Memphis Grizzlies against the Oklahoma City Thunder, to be exact.  In the Western Conference Semifinal, the former Seattle Sonics are playing against the former Vancouver Grizzlies.  This could have been one of the most interesting match ups in years as Seattle and Vancouver are separated by about two and half hours' driving distance, less than the distance it takes Spike Lee to be chauffeured from his posh Manhattan penthouse to the Boston Garden.  Instead, we are witnessing two of the smallest markets battle it out for the smallest market to ever host a Western Conference Finals game.

It's really too bad.  I've visited both Vancouver and Seattle.  These are proud cities, proud of their professional teams and proud of themselves.

Before all of the Big Macs
I remember going to KeyArena (its former name before the Bank obviously dropped their naming rights.) to see the Sonics play about 10 years ago.  Anchoring one end of the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle calls home), we were struck by how few people were actually walking around.  We didn't know where to go to have a good time before the game, the place was deserted.  We ended up drinking some beers before the game in the adjacent Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and talked to other "tailgaters."  Everyone was excited for this game, despite it being only mid March.  The Sonics were good at that point.

Comparing the KeyArena to the brand new TD Bank Garden which was built about 5 years before we arrived in Seattle, even I noticed that the stadium seemed a little out of date.  A relic of what the former Seattle Center once was, I suppose.  Little did I know that the Sonics weren't doing that great at the gate and the arena didn't hold enough luxury boxes for Microsoft engineers to buy.  Eventually, Starbucks's founder Howard Schultz made the mistake of selling the team to an ownership group headed by Clay Bennett, naively believing that Bennett would not move the team to his hometown of Oklahoma City.  A year later Bennett did exactly that.

All those guys over there are better than you
The Grizzlies have a similarly checkered past.  The team entered the NBA in 1995 with the Toronto Raptors.  Despite having to choose its team through an expansion draft - meaning all of the players sucked - the other league owners wouldn't permit the team to have a draft pick in the top 5.  It was the so-called Orlando Magic effect.  Unfortunately, this draft yielded the ultimate stiff in Bryant Reeves, who led the Grizzlies to only two 20 win seasons in the six years that the team played in Vancouver.  Believe me, the other years were much MUCH worse.  After flagging attendance, a familiar refrain for many teams this season, the team's new owner at the time, Michael Heisley, after promising to keep the team in Vancouver moved the team to Memphis after the 2000-01 season.  Word has it that the Grizzlies' Number 1 draft pick in the 2000-01 draft, Mike Bibby still denies that he ever played for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Now my kids don't even know who the Seattle Supersonics are.  Thanks to NBA2K11, they know that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder's best players, they know that Eric Maynor is awful, and they ask why Kendrick Perkins hasn't been traded to the Thunder yet for Nenad Kristic and Jeff Green.  Even my 6 year old's favorite player, Nate "Mini man" Robinson is on the team.  When I ask them if they know who Sean Payton is, or Shawn Kemp, they just look at me with a glossy look on their faces.  A look they often reserve for my request that they finish their vegetables. 

"Dad, will you just unpause the game, KD was about to hit that free throw?" Yes I will resort to that sort of distraction to win at NBA 2K11.

Now the Memphis Grizzlies are one of the up and coming franchises.  Now the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, poised to come out of the Western Conference to play for the NBA Championship.  It could have been a a great matchup.   

Like I wrote, it's really too bad.  Having lost a favorite team myself, I know how Seattle and Vancouver feel as they watch these two teams play against each other for the right to play for the Western Conference Championship.  I think I'll unpause the game now.

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