Over the course of five seasons and 375 games, there was one player who, for better or worse, was synonymous with the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Selected with the third overall pick in the 1996 draft — after Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, but before Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and a scruffy haired Canadian point guard — Shareef Abdur-Rahim was touted as the saviour of the floundering second-year Grizzlies franchise.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim was just one year out of California, where as a Golden Bear freshman, he picked up the Pac-10 Player Of The Year. Heading north to Vancouver, Abdur-Rahim instantly became a fan favorite, as he was the polar opposite of what the first Grizzlies draft pick Bryant Reeves was a year prior. Athletic, graceful and talented, SAR gave basketball fans in Vancouver something to hold on to…hope.
With averages of 20.5 points per game and just a shade over eight rebounds, the Georgia native was one of few nightly highlights on Sports Page and in the morning papers.
While the Grizz were able to bring in some help for Abdur-Rahim over the next few years, primarily Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson, Shareef was the main pillar for a franchise that never seemed to have a hope. With six straight losing seasons, each seemingly worse than the other, one had to wonder when Abdur-Rahim would break.
True to his name, SAR remained loyal to the franchise that took a chance on him as a 19-year-old out of college. Whereas others that came into Vancouver and complained about everything from the rain to the lack of soul food — not to mention the taxes — Abdur-Rahim continued to be the consummate professional.
Nicknamed “The Future,” unfortunately for SAR and hoop fans in BC, the future of the franchise was short lived. With a losing record in each of his five seasons in Vancouver, each one only marginally better than the last, NBA fans hardly got to appreciate the efforts of the 6’9″ forward.
Fortunately or unfortunately for Abdur-Rahim, he would be traded from the Grizzlies upon their move to Memphis, spening two-and-a half seasons in Atlanta, where he would finally be acknowledged for his efforts and named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Yet, sadly he would not find postseason success until he signed with the Sacramento Kings as a free agent following a cup of coffee in Portland.
While many in Vancouver pine for the return of an NBA team, the likelihood of that happening anytime soon is highly unlikely. However, that is no reason why we should not celebrate even a small success.
To Adam Silver, the Aquilini’s and pretty much anyone else who is in charge of arranging an exhibition game next season, my suggestion to you is to arrange a game between the LA Lakers, which will bring home Steve Nash for one final run in front of hometown fans (or close enough to it) and the Sacramento Kings, where Abdur-Rahim has been connected to the front office since his retirement in 2008.
Basketball fans in BC were robbed over a decade ago of a professional basketball team, but chances, are the city would welcome the opportunity to honor a player who was a true professional by hanging a Vancouver Grizzlies No. 3 jersey in the rafters of Rogers Arena.
As odd as it might be to see a basketball jersey side by side with the likes of Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure, if the city of Vancouver is to ever welcome back an NBA franchise, it should first embrace those who were a part of history.