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  • Thursday, September 23, 1999

    Grizzlies sold to Missouri-based billionaire

    By JIM MORRIS -- Canadian Press
     VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Grizzlies have been bought by Missouri billionaire Bill Laurie, who adds the NBA team to a sports portfolio that already includes the NHL St. Louis Blues and the Kiel Center arena.
     Orca Bay, which also owns GM Place and the NHL Vancouver Canucks, declined to say what the sale was worth. But company officials said it meant taking the For Sale sign off the NHL team.
     News of the Grizzlies sale, which still has to be approved by the NBA's board of governors, immediately led to speculation that Laurie might move the team to his St. Louis sports base.
     "We have made no decision of moving the team at all," Laurie told a news conference Thursday.
     "I'm sure people will want to know what our plans are for the team," he added, "however, the first order of business is focus on improvenent of the ball club on and off the court. Remember this is just our first day as NBA owners and it's much too soon to settle on longer plans or focus on the future."
     The same question kept coming, with Laurie repeating his answer.
     Bill and wife Nancy bought the Blues and the five-year-old Kiel Center for $100 million US recently.
     Nancy Walton Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton, who with his late brother Sam co-founded Wal-Mart. The Lauries own Crown Center Farms in Columbia.
     Speculation has swirled about the future of the NBA franchise ever since Seattle-based owner John McCaw announced last month he was willing to sell part, or all, of his Orca Bay sports empire.
     Laurie, 47, wouldn't be able to move the Grizzlies for at least one season. Under NBA rules, an expansion franchise has to stay five years in the new city. That agreement would end in Vancouver at the end of this current season.
     If Laurie wanted to move the team by next season he would have to apply to the NBA by March 1.
     Announcement of the sale came as the NBA board of governors opened this annual meetings in Vancouver.
     Orca Bay's three entities were estimated to be worth a combined $330 million US. McCaw is reported to have suffered losses of about $20 million US over the last year.
     Laurie, a rabid basketball fan who played point guard at Memphis State, and his wife agreed in April to buy the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and Denver's new Pepsi Center for $400 million US. But they lost out when a rival group, given a second chance to bid, offered $461 million US.
     The Grizzlies have met with limited success since joining the NBA, never winning more than 19 games. Vancouver was 8-42 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, the worst record in the 29-team league.



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