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  • Friday, January 21, 2000

    Vancouver Grizzlies back up for sale

     VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- The Vancouver Grizzlies were back on the block Friday after prospective buyer Bill Laurie ended a four-month courtship, paying an undisclosed sum to walk away from a deal.

     "As of this afternoon, we've reached an agreement on the termination of the purchase agreement for the Vancouver Grizzlies to the Lauries," said Stan McCammon, deputy chairman of Orca Bay, the parent company that owns the Grizzlies. McCammon wouldn't indicate how much the franchise received from Laurie, who had agreed to buy the team last September for $200 million.

     McCammon made his remarks during a Friday afternoon press conference, a day after Laurie, a Columbia, Mo., millionaire, reneged on the deal over concerns that he could not uproot the franchise and move it to St. Louis, where he owns the NHL St. Louis Blues and their facility, the Kiel Center.

     While calling the news good for Vancouver basketball fans, McCammon said Laurie's departure has not stopped Orca Bay from looking for other potential buyers.

     Without disclosing how many there are, McCammon said there is more than one suitor interested in purchasing the Grizzlies, although none are Canadian.

     Orca Bay, headed by Seattle-based multi-millionaire John McCaw, also owns the NHL Vancouver Canucks and their home facility, GM Place.

     The sale of the Grizzlies faced problems from the outset over Laurie's desire to move the 5-year-old franchise.

     Immediately following the announcement, NBA commissioner David Stern voiced his personal opposition to a relocation, citing the league's record of not having any franchise migrations since the Clippers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984.

     "It's my goal to see the Grizzlies stay and succeed in Vancouver," Stern said.

     In October, the NBA board of governors finance committee raised concerns over terms of the deal, noting that it included many incentives to move the team.

     Citing the concerns, Orca Bay pulled the deal away before the NBA could vote on it, in an attempt to renegotiate with Laurie, whose wife, Nancy, is an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune.

     While Laurie insisted that moving the team was crucial to buying the Grizzlies, McCammon said that issue was up for interpretation.

     "That's their point of view. It's not ours. And at this point I'd rather move and focus on making sure that the Vancouver Grizzlies are succeeding on the court and taking care of the things that we need to take care of," McCammon said.

     McCammon also denied Laurie's suggestion that the Grizzlies were not viable in Vancouver.

     "We understand the differences in the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar, so it is something that makes it more difficult. But that doesn't make it insurmountable," McCammon said.

     "The real question is if we're selling out and getting the appropriate support, we should be able to overcome some of the hurdles," McCammon said.

     McCaw is willing to sell the Grizzlies to alleviate the financial burden he faces in owning two professional sports franchises and an arena. McCammon maintained that the Canucks are not for sale.

     In backing out of Vancouver, Laurie said he would "explore other methods" of bringing an NBA team to St. Louis.

     "That remains our objective, and we intend to explore all options, including the possibility of securing an NBA expansion franchise," Laurie said.

     In April, the Lauries bid $400 million to buy the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the arena in which those teams play, but lost to a rival group that bid $461 million.

     St. Louis hasn't had an NBA team since the Hawks left in 1968.



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