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NBA - Going Grizzly Hunting

By Jared Spinelli

As the Vancouver Grizzlies look into possible cities to relocate their franchise to, many U.S. cities are rushing franticly to convince Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley that their city is the city for the Grizz. Cities such as Anaheim, Louisville, Memphis, New Orleans, and St. Louis are all in the running. Only one, however, will bring the Grizzlies into a new home.

Heisley announced his intentions to move the team from Vancouver a few months ago, and immediately many cities in the U.S. became interested. After all, NBA basketball does draw money, especially in the right city. Heisley spotted financial problems with the lack of attendance and merchandise sales in Vancouver as the reason for the relocation. He claims he'll lose $40 million in Vancouver this year. The Grizzlies, along with the Raptors, interestingly enough, are the two newest franchises in the NBA.

NBA commissioner David Stern issued an extension for applying for relocation for the 2001-2002 season, allowing Heisley until March 26. In the five top cities in the running mentioned above, Anaheim and New Orleans appear to be the front runners. Anaheim has a major arena all ready, with The Pond (serving as the home of the NHL's Mighty Ducks). However, the lease on The Pond is not restructured, and that lese gives the Mighty Ducks the majority of money from advertising and luxury suites. This could be the reason Heisley says "no thanks" to Anaheim.

Meanwhile, New Orleans already has a major 18,500-seat arena ready, however the New Orleans area low per capita and lack of corporate money are the city's downside. Louisville, and already eliminated Las Vegas, do not have NBA-ready arenas available at the current moment.

Heisley met with Memphis city officials last week, and though Shelby County officials seem hopeful, Memphis' Pyramid Arena is not as up to NBA standards as all the other possible candidates. The Memphis representatives did speak to Heisley about improving the Pyramid, mainly adding more sky boxes and club seats. Besides the arena issues, a Vancouver newspaper reports that Memphis is the NBA's top choice for the Grizzlies, as there are no other sports teams in the area, which would attract possibly more fans.

A twist in this story is that many NBA owners, mainly executives in Minnesota, are praying that Vancouver relocates in the West, because Minnesota themselves want to move back East, getting out of the stacked Western Conference. For that to work, Anaheim would have to become the Grizzlies new team.

It puts things into perspective when several cities battle for one of the worst teams in the NBA. The reason? Good or bad, for the most part (Vancouver is one of the exceptions) the NBA attracts fans, and makes money for the city. If the Grizzlies remain, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mike Bibby, and company could potentially become one of the surprise NBA teams in just a few years. But, that is the question - can the Grizz re-sign Abdur-Rahim and Bibby? They both are not the happiest of campers at the present time, but would relocating make them happy?

For the Grizzlies to be successful both in winning games and making money, they need to have a good financial backing in order to retain and sign free agents. If they can create a nucleus in the team, they could eventually attract key free agents and turn their team's history from negative to positive. It's happened before, and it can happen again.

It won't happen for the Grizzlies, though, if Heisley cannot turn the financial state around once the Grizzlies find a new city to call home. There is still one option left over, however. If Heisley does not get the perfect deal for his team, he can always remain in Vancouver one more year, and try his luck again the next year. Keep in mind that relocating doesn't guarantee a big turn around in money made. Heisley could move this season, and not make back nearly what he wanted.

Whatever happens, Heisley will find a situation better than the one in Vancouver. That's what relocating is all about. The only people losing out in this one will be the fans in Vancouver. They didn't come out to the games often enough, and for that, they lost their NBA franchise.

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