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  • Friday, September 24, 1999

    Grin and bear it

    Vancouver fans are victims in sale of Grizzlies franchise

    By JIM TAYLOR -- Calgary Sun
      Another big winter shaping up for Vancouver sports: The hockey team's two big signings won't be here until next season, by which time the basketball team may not be here at all.
     Although new owner Bill Laurie almost put himself in traction not quite saying they wouldn't be moving, the NBA Vancouver Grizzlies took their first baby sneaker steps south yesterday.
     John McCaw sold them to the Laurie family for what he would only say was more than the $125 million US they cost, which likely would be enough to leave him with his GM Place arena free and clear with some left over to sop up some of the red ink surely to be spilled by the Canucks.
     Where it leaves Vancouver's basketball fans is holding the bag and being asked to fill it with their money one more time.
     Laurie, who with wife and Wal-Mart heiress Nancy recently bought the St. Louis Blues and the five-year-old Kiel Centre arena for $100 million US, looked almost petulant at times as reporters kept asking him to commit that he was not moving the Grizz to St. Loo. It was not the time to discuss the future. This was a great day for his family and this dark cloud of people asking the same old question was spoiling it, yadayadayada.
     He was really excited and committed to putting a better product on the floor, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam. And he would really appreciate it if the media and fans would check their brains at the door and take everything as gospel.
     OK, he didn't say that last part. But in one of those staged, media-event press conferences in which some suited shill at the microphone decides how many questions will be asked and who will ask them, the inference was clear:
     These two mega-rich guys have made a deal, so if you'll all tug your forelocks and ask only softball questions, you can come out with us later while (gasp!) Bill walks the basketball court!
     OK, pop quiz:
     A zillionaire owns a hockey team and an arena in one city, where he needs a second tenant for the building. He buys an NBA team in another city because:
     (a) he likes commuting and paying arena rent.
     (b) he feels he owes a debt to all these Canadian pigeons he's never met who've supported the team in the four years it was lousy.
     (c) he's moving the franchise into his own building as quickly as the league will allow.
     If you answered (a) or (b) you have the IQ of plankton.
     But if you're a fan -- hey, c'mon out and see us, y'hear, because who knows, if y'all are good little pigeons and fill the Garage every night, we might stay another year!
     Ah, yes, the pigeons.
     Lord, but they've been shafted. For four years, they've tolerated mostly lousy basketball, lived with Big Country's penchant for adding continents to his equator, backed the team in its handling of the Steve Francis sulk-a-thon, and poured into the Garage 16,000 strong.
     And now, just when the team shows some promise, they're supposed to sit still for one season and a kiss-off?
     Out of it all came one crumb: McCaw says selling the Grizz means the Canucks are no longer for sale. As with all promises of the mega-rich, the "for now" at the end is silent. But never fear: it's there.
     And let's not hear any whining about it, either. When the rich guys deal, your job is to count your blessings, buy tickets, and shut up. In life as on Animal Farm, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

    VANCOUVER CANUCKS



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