NBA officially OKs team transfer to Memphis

Published: Wednesday, July 4 2001 9:06 a.m. MDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies are giving Memphis its first big-time sports team.

The NBA gave its approval Tuesday for the Grizzlies' relocation from Vancouver.

The formal approval wasn't a surprise because the Grizzlies had already moved their basketball operations, but it was necessary, nevertheless.

"This is an exciting day for the people of Memphis," said Memphis businessman J.R. "Pitt" Hyde, leader of a local group that worked for more than a year to attract the NBA.

"It's time now to turn our focus to building a competitive basketball team that will be a positive force in the city."

In unanimously approving the move, the NBA Board of Governors also cleared the way for Hyde's group to buy a minority interest in the team.

The league's relocation committee gave its approval last week, and Grizzlies boosters held a relocation party in Memphis on Saturday.

The team conduced its NBA draft last week at The Peabody Hotel, a downtown Memphis landmark.

Billy Knight, the Grizzlies' general manager, said approval from the board of governors was expected.

"We're glad we got the final step done, but it was like a step, like you're walking and that foot is up in the air and it's got to come down," he said.

The relocation is the league's first since the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985.

Memphis has longed for a major league sports franchise for more than 30 years, but until now managed only to attract teams from second-tier leagues, like those with the former World Football League, the United States Football League, the Canadian Football League, the old American Basketball Association and most recently, the XFL.

After Nashville got an NFL team in 1997, Memphis set its sites on the NBA, stepping up efforts this year when owner Michael Heisley said he wanted to leave Vancouver.

Heisley said he looked at Las Vegas; Anaheim, St. Louis, New Orleans and Louisville before choosing Memphis.

NBA boosters promised the league a new $250 million arena, and the city and county governments have agreed to build one.

It will be mostly paid for by the taxpayers, through sales tax rebates, government backed bonds and hotel and car rental taxes.

The Grizzlies will play at The Pyramid, a 10-year-old arena along the Memphis riverfront, while the new downtown stadium is built. Completion is expected by 2004.

The Grizzlies started their rookie camp Tuesday at Rhodes College, a private school in Memphis.

"What makes me happy and makes me comfortable is getting in the gym and working with our players," coach Sidney Lowe said. "I'm glad it's all over and now we're back to work."

The Grizzlies were added to the NBA as an expansion team in 1994 and began play in 1995.

They won just 15 games the first season, and 14 the year after that. They went 19-63 in their third year and 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.

In the past week, the Grizzlies traded off forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim and guard Mike Bibby, two of their top players.

But they added young standouts like Shane Battier of Duke, Pau Gasol of Spain and Jason Williams of Sacramento, while promising an overall, uptempo approach on the court.

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