New York It's official: The Vancouver Grizzlies are moving to Memphis.
NBA owners gave unanimous approval to the move Tuesday, clearing the way for the Grizzlies to play in Tennessee next season. It is the league's first franchise relocation since the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985.
The league's Board of Governors also approved the sale of a minority interest in the team to a group of Memphis-based investors led by J.R. "Pitt" Hyde III and his wife, Barbara. Hyde is founder of AutoZone, an auto parts company.
"We are gratified by the community's enthusiasm and remarkable level of support for the Grizzlies," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "The city of Memphis, Shelby County, the NBA pursuit team, the business community and the local investors have come together with (owner) Michael Heisley and the Grizzlies organization to assure that a successful NBA franchise in Memphis will be a reality."
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said the city was elated.
"A number of citizens, as well as elected officials, have worked very hard to make this dream of an NBA franchise for Memphis a reality," he said.
The Grizzlies were added to the NBA as an expansion team April 27, 1994, and began play in 1995, winning their first game at Portland 92-80 with a roster that included Benoit Benjamin, Kenny Gattison and Blue Edwards.
That was one of just 15 victories in the franchise's first season, and the team continued to struggle, winning just 14 the next season, then going 19-63 in their third year. Vancouver won just eight of 50 games in the lockout season of 1998-99. The Grizzlies improved to 22-60 in 1999-2000 and 23-59 last season.
Vancouver never made it to the playoffs and used lottery draft picks for Bryant Reeves, Shareef Abdul-Rahim, Antonio Daniels, Mike Bibby, Steve Francis and Stromile Swift. Francis was immediately traded to Houston after the 1999 draft in a three-way trade that involved 10 players.
Last week, Bibby was traded to Sacramento for Jason Williams. Also, the Grizzlies reached agreement with the Hawks on a trade sending Abdur-Rahim to Atlanta for Lorenzen Wright, Brevin Knight and the third choice in the draft F.C. Barcelona forward Pau Gasol.
"This is an exciting day for the people of Memphis," Hyde said. "It's time now to turn our focus to building a competitive basketball team that will be a positive force in the city."
Heisley purchased the Grizzlies from John McCaw for $160 million on April 11, 2000.
In Heisley's first season as owner, he projected losses of about $46 million. The team averaged just over 13,000 fans per game, down 2 percent from the previous year, playing to 70 percent of capacity.
Heisley began shopping for a new home for his franchise and early in the process said he was looking at six cities: Las Vegas; Anaheim, Calif.; St. Louis; New Orleans; Louisville, Ky.; and "to a certain extent, Memphis."