MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — In August of 2000, business leader Gayle Rose had a meeting with Memphis businessman Staley Cates.
“There at that meeting, he said, you know, we would really like you to lead the effort to explore what it would take from Memphis to get an NBA franchise,” said Rose. “Memphis had been chasing a professional sports franchise for the past three decades and had failed quite publicly.”
Rose was later introduced to then NBA Commissioner David Stern. They set up a meeting in New York.
“He really recommended that we pull together a team of civic leaders that would then become what we’ve called the pursuit team.”
Joining Rose in the Pursuit Team was AutoZone founder Pitt Hyde, his wife Barbara, Staley and Andy Cates, Charles Ewing, and Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones.
“I don’t think we really as a group understood what we was going up against, you know, a small market trying to convince people that this is a possibility,” Jones said. “The first Major League franchise for Memphis.”
By far the biggest obstacle for the Pursuit Team was crafting a plan to fund a $250 million arena and the backlash that ensued.
“The idea is that you’re taking money out of the coffers of public funding to fund rich basketball men,” said Rose.
Despite the opposition, the Pursuit Team pulled it off in March of 2001. Michael Heisley, the then owner of the Vancouver Grizzlies fell in love with the city and put in the application to relocate his franchise to Memphis.
“He came to Memphis unannounced one weekend,” Jones said. “He went around and met people and get a sense of what Memphis was like. And he made happen.”
“The pressure of the failure, we all felt that, you know, of 30 years of trying to put ourselves out there,” Rose said. “I’ll never forget the day that you know, the owners approved the franchise. It was so happy, it was so exciting for Memphis. I’m so grateful that I got to be a part of that.”
After 21 years, the Grizzlies are on the brink of a historic season that has taken this franchise to new heights – the ultimate dream of the Pursuit Team.
“When you look it says the Memphis Grizzlies and when you look at the jerseys, it says Memphis,” said Jones. “For a Memphis native like me, that says a lot.”
“In spite of the fact of people not really believing, the only thing I can say to them is look at us now.”