British Columbia

Vancouver NBA team a possibility, think tank says

A leading economic think tank says Vancouver could be in line for another professional basketball franchise — but some in the professional sports world say they have their doubts.
Bryant (Big Country) Reeves and the Vancouver Grizzlies held court in B.C. from 1995-2001 until relocating to Memphis. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

A leading economic think tank says Vancouver could get another professional basketball franchise — but some in the professional sports world say they have their doubts.

The Vancouver Grizzlies lasted just five seasons, leaving the city in 2001 and relocating in Memphis. The team’s attendance waned as the novelty wore off and the win/loss record remained an embarrassment.

The Canadian dollar was also well below par with the U.S. throughout the team’s tenure, putting the owners at a real economic disadvantage.

But the Conference Board of Canada says conditions are ripe for the NBA's return to the city.

"[Economic] fundamentals have changed," board member Glen Hodgson said Friday. "With the dollar at par, and a growing, more immigrant-based population, it's quite possible to have a second NBA franchise in Canada based in Vancouver."

"We think Vancouver actually got the timing all wrong last time."

The only other NBA franchise in the country is the Toronto Raptors.

Too expensive, Furlong says

The Conference Board also points to the return of pro hockey’s Winnipeg Jets as a recent precedent.

But John Furlong, the man ran the Olympics in Vancouver and now chairs the Whitecaps of Major League soccer, has his doubts.

"Everybody wants to believe in that, but it's incredibly more complicated than that," Furlong said.

Furlong said a professional sports team needs broad interest, local ownership and player salaries have to be affordable.

"There are players in the NBA who have $100-million contracts," said Furlong. "You have to know that just isn’t sustainable in every market."

Other sports moguls in the city might feel otherwise, however. In 2011, a report said that Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini was looking to bring another basketball franchise to the city when the New Orleans Hornets were said to be for sale.

The Conference Board says Vancouver is projected to see a population increase of more than one million over the next 25 years, and in that time also should attract more corporate headquarters — key to helping finance another shot at the NBA.


With files from the CBC's Mychaylo Prystupa