Raptors playoff run ‘bittersweet’ for former Vancouver Grizzlies owner

Arthur Griffiths already owned Canucks when he tried to bring NBA team to B.C.

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives up court as Golden State Warriors centre Kevon Looney (5) defends during second half basketball action in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Toronto on Thursday, May 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Arthur Griffiths admits he has mixed emotions as he watches the Toronto Raptors’ remarkable playoff run.

Like many Canadians, he’s captivated by the stunning shots and gritty performances, but the founding owner of the NBA’s now-defunct Vancouver Grizzlies also wonders what could have been.

“It’s a little bittersweet in the sense that that’s what I’d like our team to be doing if they were still in the league,” Griffiths said. ”But frankly, that’s life. … It makes me smile as well.”

The businessman already owned the Vancouver Canucks when he decided to try to bring an NBA team to Canada’s West Coast.

Fellow owners of NHL teams already owned basketball franchises and would take Griffiths along to games. He loved the energy and excitement emanating through the arenas.

“It’s impossible not to get drawn in. It’s such an up-close sport,” he said. “It’s the best example of the expression ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ The last minute of basketball is all that.”

In 1995, he brought that excitement to Vancouver when the league added the Grizzlies as an expansion franchise. The Raptors, who lead the Golden State Warriors 1-0 heading into Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday in Toronto, also began play in 1995.

The Grizzlies played at Vancouver’s downtown arena, now known as Rogers Place, sharing the facility with the Canucks.

The team struggled on the court but was embraced by fans, drawing an average crowd of more than 17,000 in the first season.

Griffiths still remembers the Grizzlies’ first home contest on Nov. 5, 1995, against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Vancouver was down through the first three quarters, but roared back in the fourth to force overtime. Chris King’s tip-in at the buzzer sealed the overtime victory.

“That was a thrilling experience to see the crowd go literally bonkers,” Griffiths said.

During the Grizzlies’ six seasons in Vancouver, they posted a dismal 101-359 record. But Griffiths said there were many highlights.

“We beat virtually everybody at one point,” he said. ”Except Michael Jordan.”

After a lockout-shortened season in 1999, support for the Grizzlies waned and the financial issues that followed were compounded by a struggling Canadian dollar.

Griffiths eventually sold his interest in the team to Seattle businessman John McCaw and the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tenn in 2001.

Griffiths went on to work on various other projects after he exited the Grizzlies’ fold. Today he’s in consulting for mergers and acquisitions and the CEO of World Farms Corp., which grows cannabis in various countries around the world.

Despite the loss of the Grizzlies, basketball remains popular in Vancouver.

The Raptors often hold training camp in the city, drawing hordes of NBA-starved fans. Bars have been packed with people dressed in black and red, cheering for Toronto during the current playoff run. Sports stores still sell the old black-and-turquoise Grizzlies jerseys.

Griffiths is proud of his part in building the city’s love for the sport.

“Genuinely, I’m a big fan of what we tried to do here,” he said. ”And hopefully we’ll be able to bring it back one day.”

Former commissioner David Stern has said he regrets the demise of the Grizzlies.

With Toronto’s recent success and the rampant support the team has garnered from across the country, some in Vancouver have wondered whether the time is right to bring an NBA team back.

It’s a question Griffiths is asked frequently.

“I don’t doubt for a minute that that initial base and then the NBA’s success in this subsequent success in this country is solid,” he said. “I’m convinced that the NBA would and should come back (to Vancouver).”

For now, though, Griffiths will root for the Raptors. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday night the league is not currently considering expansion.

READ MORE: Raptors beat Warriors 118-109 in Game 1 of NBA Finals

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Wells’ Sunset Theatre unveils summer season lineup

The lineup features award-winning touring productions, play readings, concerts, and world premieres

Barkerville Historic Town and Park takes big steps to protect site against wildfire

A complex fuel management pilot project has recently been completed at the historic site

Two girl’s soccer teams qualify for provincials

U13 and U16 squads will represent Quesnel in Burnaby, July 4-7

Ranch Musings: Rebuilding ranching culture

Regular columnist David Zirnhelt writes about his family’s branding weekend

Quesnel gymnasts finish off the season with a bang

Club wins 29 medals at Ogopogo Invitational in Kelowna

VIDEO: First Nations, developer call for return and protection of sacred B.C. burial site

Dozens of First Nations leaders gather on grassy plateau to call on action by provincial government

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Teen stabbed after end-of-night limo dispute in downtown Vancouver

A young man, 19, is in serious condition following a dispute between two groups

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

B.C. Interior First Nation family ‘heartbroken’ over loss of young mom

RCMP have released no new information since the June 8, 2019 homicide

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Convicted B.C. child abductor Randall Hopley back in custody 6 months after release

Correctional Services Canada could not provide further details due to privacy concerns

Most Read