VANCOUVER— Rick Carlisle was just in his second season as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers when the Vancouver Grizzlies played their inaugural season in the NBA.
The year was 1995. And Carlisle remembers it as if it was yesterday.
He remembers the pageantry of Vancouver – widely known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world – adding an NBA franchise to a city and a country known more for its professional hockey.
“I just remember how beautiful it was, how welcoming the fans were, how loud the building was,” Carlisle said after Thursday morning’s shootaround at Rogers Arena. “It was always a difficult place to play because of the fan support.
“Being back here kind of feels like we never left, because some parts of it you just remember, and remember how beautiful it is and how great the people are.”
Those people will be out in full force tonight at 9:30 Dallas time when the Mavs (1-3) and Los Angeles Clippers (2-2) square off in a preseason game.
A rally titled “Vancouver Wants The NBA Back” will take place outside of Rogers Arena later today.
“I think it’s a nice city,” said center Kristaps Porzingis, who is in Vancouver for the first time. “I haven’t seen that much of it.
“We went to a restaurant last night with the team and had a team dinner, but it’s nice and the city looks nice.”
While re-hashing memories of getting to play in a city that left Vancouver for Memphis after the 2000-01 season, Carlisle knows of the advantages it is to play the Clippers at this juncture of the preseason. The Clippers are favored by many to capture this season’s NBA title, so tonight’s game could be used by the Mavs as somewhat of a measuring stick.
That’s because the Clippers can roll out a star-studded and a very physical lineup that includes the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Mo Williams and Montrezl Harrell, although an injury will keep George off the court. Leonard was the Most Valuable Player of last season’s NBA Finals after he led the Toronto Raptors to the league championship, and then he signed a free agent contract with the Clippers over the summer.
“They have a lot of terrific players,” Carlisle said. “I know Paul George is not playing tonight (due to offseason surgery on both shoulders). But Leonard is really, right now you have to say he’s one of the top one or two players in the world coming off the championship in Toronto last year. So that’s a huge challenge.”
The Mavs will indeed play their two star players — Luka Doncic and Porzingis — according to Carlisle. It will be the fourth preseason game for Porzingis, who collected 17 points and 13 rebounds in just 26 minutes during Monday’s 107-70 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Both teams are getting closer to the (regular) season, so I think everybody is going to ramp it up a little bit and try to be sharper and more ready for the season,” Porzingis told Mavs.com. “These guys, they’re going to be one of the favorites to win the championship this season.
“So it’s going to be a high-level basketball team and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
In addition to the challenge his team is facing, Carlisle also is looking forward to seeing if the Vancouverites will pack the arena where the Vancouver Canucks play in the National Hockey League.
“This is one of the most amazing cities in the world,” Carlisle said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a great crowd, and it’s two teams that are really looking forward to playing.”
The Grizzlies were 101-359 with five head coaches and five last-place finishes in their division during their six-year tenure in Vancouver.
On if he believes Vancouver will one day secure another NBA franchise, Carlisle said: “I think anything’s possible. Time will tell on that. But whatever the case we’re happy to be here today.’