It’s a promising season for this up-and-coming team, featuring Pau Gasol, Eddie Jones, and Damon Stoudamire. Gasol is a mainstay on the NBA All-Star Team, and the leading scorer for the Grizzlies for the past five years. This Memphis team is known for their tight team chemistry, which translates into inspired play on the court…and happy crowds at the FedEx Forum. If the team can stay healthy, Coach Mike Fratello can lead them to be one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this year.
In 1946, the Toronto Huskies were the first professional basketball team in Canada. The team was a member of the Basketball Association of America, the predecessor of the NBA. In 1995, the NBA expanded north with two new teams, the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Vancouver Grizzlies locked up Brian Winters to be their first head coach. Winters was a long time assistant under Lenny Wilkens, the NBA's all-time winningest coach. The inaugural pick of the Grizzlies was the seven-foot center out of Oklahoma State, Bryant Reeves, aptly referred to as "Big Country."
The team has struggled in the NBA since it joined the league. Expansion is tough, and the Grizzlies learned that first hand. Despite early draft picks and coaching changes, the team struggled in Vancouver. So, in 2001, the Grizzlies packed up and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. The relocated basketball team found itself in a new city and in a new arena, FedEx Forum. The downtown arena seats 18,000 fans and is located less than one block south of historic Beale Street. The designers of the stadium were interested in building an arena that could capture the energy and excitement of downtown Memphis and bring it inside a basketball arena and entertainment venue.
In 2002, one of the leading basketball minds in America came out of retirement to take over as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. Hubie Brown had coached teams to five NBA playoffs and even led one team to an American Basketball Association Championship. Brown was brought in to turn the team's fortune around and ignite a fire under the young stars to excel in the game of basketball. The Grizzlies are led by the seven-foot Spaniard, Pau Gasol. Gasol, like many foreign-born basketball players, gained experience playing in European leagues and came to the NBA with some experience. He started his NBA career with a bang in 2001, averaging just over seventeen points and nearly nine rebounds per game, earning him Rookie of the Year honors. The floor general for the Grizzlies is Jason Williams. Williams was a Florida Gator in college and led the team in points, assists, and steals as a junior. In the NBA, he has become known for his flashy passing. Early in his career, he was adored by fans due to his tendency to make outrageous passes behind his back or between his legs. He is consistently among the league leaders in assists and averages seven assists per game throughout his career. Mike Miller, James Posey, and Bonzi Wells all are scoring threats for the Memphis Grizzlies. Each capable of putting up big offensive numbers, Miller, Posey, and Wells each also do their share on the boards as well. The team really made waves in 2003, showing their ability to compete in the Western Conference. Ticket sales boomed, and the general sentiment around the league is that this is a team on the rise.
Memphis is also home to the Memphis Tigers, always competitors in basketball in Conference USA, have the potential to pull a big upset come tournament time. The team often draws tough out-of-conference opponents, such as Illinois, Wake Forest, and Missouri, making tickets tough to come by. The city of Memphis also hosts the Memphis Redbirds, a minor league baseball team in the St. Louis Cardinals system, a flourishing rugby team, the Memphis Blues, and the NFL's Tennessee Oilers, now known as the Tennessee Titans, playing in Memphis since 1997.