Can you believe it's been 20 years since the Vancouver Grizzlies drafted Shareef Abdur-Rahim, generally regarded as the best player in franchise history?

Well, it's true. And on a visit to Vancouver as part of an NBA Canada all-star challenge taking place at UBC on Jan. 23, Abdur-Rahim stopped by CBC Vancouver for an interview with On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

They talked memories, the loss of the Grizzlies and what future Vancouver might have in the NBA — if any.

I remember those days with the Grizlies. That brought so much excitement to this city.

Great memories, great moments, great times here in Vancouver. Really great memories.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim remembers his first practice with the Vancouver Grizzles0:57

You were asked to take a major leadership role with this fledgling team.

It was a big challenge and a lot of expectations. And a lot of fun. I was coming to a country and a place I had never been. So a little bit of a different culture and different ways.

My first impression was flying here the day after the draft and asking my agent, "Exactly where is Vancouver?" I'm from the southeastern area of the States, so my first experience of the Pacific Northwest was in college. He was like, "Think of Seattle."

When I got here people were so good to me, the organization was so good, I made a lot of friends quickly, and they stayed friends.

At that time, coming to this city you didn't even know, did we rise to the occasion? How did the fans do?

Shareef drives

Shareef Abdur-Rahim drives the lane while defended by Dallas Mavericks forward Gary Trent in 2001. (Reuters)

Absolutely. There was a lot of NBA fans and basketball fans ... Stu Jackson, the general manager who drafted me, he did a great job. Every year he would take us different places in Canada. One year we would have training camp in Calgary, one year we did it in Victoria and he made us, instead of babying us, take the ferry over and pay to get on. Looking back on it, it made for a really wonderful experience and you always got to be involved in the fabric of this city.

I think you see now the byproduct of the Grizzlies being here. When you look, there's a lot of young talent coming out of Canada, that are NBA players or potential NBA players, and I like to think, the Grizzlies, their time here, had something to do with that.

The fans didn't always agree with the decisions by people at the top. They missed out on a lot of big-time talent along the way. Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter Paul Pierce, Baron Davis. What was it like for you? The level of frustration watching the GM at the time, Stu Jackson, squandering these potential prospects?

At the time, you don't know how well guys are going to do. Even in the moment you don't know that a guy's going to pan out to be really great. Now, looking back, it's like, "Wow, this could've been our team." But if you take those guys, substitute someone else, maybe we would've been a little bit better. But for me, the guys that we had are still my friends. We have such wonderful relationships. So it's hard for me to say, "I wish that guy was here instead of this guy."

Do you think Vancouver could get, should get and can support an NBA franchise again?

I definitely think Vancouver could support a team. I think the passion is here, people love NBA basketball. If it will or not, I don't know. So many things have to happen that are outside of anyone's control. The team never would've left if I made the decision. If it was up to me, this is a wonderful city, there would still be the Grizzlies here.

Abdur-Rahim, Reeves, Bibby

Left to right: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and Mike Bibby pose for a publicity shot in 1999. (Reuters)

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Shareef Abdur-Rahim talks Grizzlies memories and Vancouver's NBA future