LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The Grizzlie Truth tells veteran sports documentarian Kathleen S. Jayme’s deeply personal and tragic love story she had with the Vancouver Grizzlies. The NBA franchise team was arguably one of the worst in NBA history. Founded in 1995 as part of the NBA’s Canadian expansions to Vancouver and Toronto with the Raptors, the Grizzles started on a hot streak winning its inaugural game against the Portland Trailblazers and a come-from-behind victory against the Timberwolves.
However, reality set in as the Grizzlies went on a 19-game losing streak, ending the season with a record of 15-67. Yes, it’s expected that an expansion team would not be a winning team. However, this was a bad sign, especially when compared to teams in similar situations.
But The Grizzlie Truth is not about how bad the Grizzlies were but about why the team left Vancouver for Memphis after only six seasons. What happened? Why did they lose so badly? Did they have to go, or were other factors in play? This is a documentary made by fans for the fans; even though the titular team had the worst record in NBA history, they boasted one of the most rabid fanbases with a high percentage of average tickets sold.
Jayme puts herself right into the story. The film is full of heart, exemplifying the definition of “superfan.” She and other superfans talk about their experiences attending games with friends and family, collecting memorabilia, and the heartbreak of losing their team. Jayme interviews many of the team’s top players, including Byron Scott, Darrick Martin, and lifelong Grizzlie Shareef Abdur-Rahim. They speak to how incredibly the city of Vancouver treated them and the passion of their fans. However, working in Canada proved difficult (specifically tax issues).
“…the Grizzlies went on a 19-game losing streak, ending the season with a record of 15-67.”
But superfans aren’t the sole focus of The Grizzlie Truth. Again, why was the team so bad, and why did they leave? Many fans point to general manager Stu Jackson. As the team’s losing streak worsened, Jackson and the Grizzlies launched a marketing campaign with the slogan, “Losing is learning.” That was not exactly the motivation the fans were looking for. Jackson is also blamed for not drafting quality players when given a chance. However, the team could attract high-priced free agents or even top draft picks, including their 1999 #2 draft pick Steve Francis. He looked none-too-pleased about going to Vancouver.
The final straw came with the Grizzlies being sold to Michael Heisley, who swore to keep the team in Vancouver. But with another losing season and the staggering drop in the value of the Canadian dollar, the new owner went back on his word and moved the team. Could the team have turned things around had they stayed in Canada?
The Grizzlie Truth must be one of the best sports documentaries from a fan’s perspective. It’s one thing to tell the story of a losing basketball team but another for a film to speak to the heart of its fanbase. Jayme not only extracts the heart and soul of Vancouver basketball fans but makes us feel the heartbreak when the news of their move to Memphis is announced.
Where the documentary truly shines is how the director uncovers all the reasons leading up to the eventual move. What’s incredible is her access to former members of the Grizzlies and two of the most controversial figures of the team’s history. It would be a spoiler to reveal who they are, as one is a true ambush on the part of Jayme.
The Grizzlie Truth is only 98 minutes, but it’s bursting at the seams with information. Jayme clearly put in more than enough research to become an expert on the subject. Wisely, she mixes the underdog story with the heart of diehard fans.
The Grizzlie Truth screened at the 2023 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
"…one of the best sports documentaries from a fan's perspective."