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  • Wednesday, October 20, 1999

    Grizzlies sale stinks for 52 million reasons

    By CRAIG DANIELS -- Toronto Sun
      When the Vancouver Grizzlies were sold conditionally to Bill Laurie last month, there were details of the sale that did not receive nearly enough attention outside of Vancouver.
     Aspects of the transaction positively reek, if you call yourself a Vancouver NBA fan, and bathe Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment chairman John McCaw in an unflattering light.
     The story, which comes from a Vancouver-area businessman who travels in overlapping circles, goes like this: McCaw had what amounted to a handshake deal with a Montana billionaire, Dennis Washington, owner of a company called Seaspan International. Washington, who has family ties in the Vancouver area, was willing to buy 50% of the Orca Bay operation and keep the NHL Canucks and the Grizzlies in Vancouver.
     But McCaw, or Stan McCammon, Orca Bay's No. 2 man (it's unclear precisely who) took Washington's offer and used it as leverage to exact a better price. Enter Bill Laurie.
     Laurie was willing to pay $148 million US for the Grizzlies and -- get ready for it -- a bonus of $52 million more to McCaw when the team moves to St. Louis. In other words, McCaw's so-called commitment and loyalty to Vancouver was merely an asset available to be sold on the open market. If true, and there is no reason to think it isn't, McCaw and his wallet are praying for the Grizzlies to move.
     The story, or a similar version, already has appeared in print in Vancouver.
     It's yet another case of a sports owner who is loyal to the dollar rather than the fans.
     NBA commissioner David Stern, who knows how badly such a scenario will play in the public's eye and realizes the extent that it undercuts the league's overall business, doesn't want to see the franchise moved under his watch. There is a view making the rounds that he will push for the league's board of governors to approve the Grizzlies sale only if the team is kept in Vancouver for 10 to 15 years, a condition that was attached to the recent sale of the Sacramento Kings.
     The governors however, will be eager for the sale to go through because the bonus and the location shift would push the team's price-tag to $200 million -- the most money an NBA team has commanded. Once that price is on the books, the value of each owner's team increases. It also keeps alive the option of owners moving their own franchises.
     
     CELTIC PRIDE: NBA legend and former Celtics centre Bill Russell has been working with his former team at the request of Boston coach Rick Pitino. On his first day, Russell called the players and coaches into a room and said: "Okay, everybody in the room is rich. Okay? So we all got that squared away.
     "Now what are we going to do (as a team)? The contracts are set and everything, so that is not even part of the equation now. This is potentially a really outstanding team, and the only thing that we have to find out now is how we can put it together so that we are playing as a team. How quickly can we do that?"
     
     A DRIVING SPREE: The reason Latrell Sprewell reported late to the Knicks training camp was he was driving his car from the West Coast to East Coast and, well, you know, it took a few days.
     Questioned as to why he didn't at least call team officials to let them know what he was doing, Sprewell replied: "That's what agents are for."
     
     EX-RAPTOR WATCH: Before Jonathan Bender -- the 18-year-old forward who was drafted fifth overall this year by the Raptors before being traded to Indiana -- broke his wrist in an exhibition game, Pacers coach Larry Bird was impressed.
     "You give it to him from 15 feet and he can shoot it or take you off the dribble," Bird said. "The kid can get up like you wouldn't believe. He has everything going for him. Now he has to bring the best out of himself."
     Pacers players, however are quietly calling the rookie "clueless" when it comes to knowing his assignments.
     
     CRAZY LIKE A FOX: Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter, the father of the triangle offence which the Chicago Bulls used to capture six NBA titles during the 1990s, says Rick Fox is picking up the nuances of the triangle more quickly than anyone else on the team. As for the others?
     "It's a bit more difficult for them," Winter said. "They're having a bit of a struggle."
     
     TRANSLATION: Fox is the only guy on the team who even has a clue.





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