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Memphis Grizzlies? It's looking that way

Published: Monday, March 26 2001 9:27 a.m. MST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The city that once featured the Memphis Tams in the ABA is the choice to become the new home of the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Bidders from Louisville, Ky. — one of four candidates hoping to lure the financially struggling team owned by Michael Heisley — confirmed Monday that Memphis was the choice.

"At 9:30, Michael Heisley informed us he was transferring his team to Memphis," said J. Bruce Miller, a Louisville attorney who spearheaded the Kentucky city's effort to lure the team. "He wanted to make sure he could still come to the Kentucky Derby and we said, 'Yes, plenty of seats are still available.' He was very gracious."

The NBA was to announce Monday the Grizzlies' relocation choice for next season. A five-member committee would then study the selection for up to four months before making a recommendation. Final approval must come from the Board of Governors.

In Louisville, officials said at a news conference that their city was out of the running.

Steve Magre, president of the city's board of aldermen, and Jonathan Blum, a senior vice president for Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., the parent company of KFC, congratulated Memphis.

New Orleans and Anaheim, Calif., were the other finalists. However, the Orange County (Calif.) Register on Saturday said the Grizzlies had told Anaheim officials they were not in the picture.

The last NBA relocation came in 1985 when the Kansas City Kings moved to Sacramento, Calif.

"Even though we're optimistic Memphis will be the selected city, we continue to have the business issues, the municipal issues and the corporate sponsorship issues," Marty Regan, attorney for a group seeking the team, said Sunday.

"This is an ongoing process. Given the complexity of the entire deal, there are large challenges, and those type challenges are going to continue through the next several months."

Memphis, with a metropolitan population of just over 1 million and a TV market ranked 40th nationally, would be the smallest city in the NBA. However, a SportsBusiness Journal survey rated it ahead of Louisville and New Orleans as a location for the team.

In addition to the Tams, the city had the Memphis Pros and the Memphis Sounds in the old ABA during the 1970s.

Regan wouldn't discuss details of unresolved issues Sunday but said, "Things are continuing to go smoothly."

AutoZone founder J.R. 'Pitt' Hyde III leads the local investor group seeking a large minority share of the team. Heisley has said that share could approach 50 percent.

The city apparently would need a new arena. During arena construction, the Grizzlies would play a projected two seasons in The Pyramid, the city's current arena. Opened in 1991, it seats about 20,000 for basketball.

Gov. Don Sundquist, formerly of Memphis, had pledged state support for an arena comparable to what the state gave Nashville to help build Adelphia Coliseum for the Tennessee Titans five years ago.

Memphis has a reputation for producing NBA players. Among them are Anfernee Hardaway, Lorenzen Wright and Vincent Askew.

The city has a minor league basketball team, an XFL team and a minor league baseball team. It sought an NFL team for 30 years, but lost out to Nashville although the franchise played for one season in Memphis.

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