A decade ago, an NBA Playoffs series between these two franchises would have been something special for the Pacific Northwest, because both of these teams were located in the Pacific Northwest. The Vancouver Grizzlies, a mid-1990s expansion team, faced rampant failure on the court -- Big Country, anyone? -- but a nice fan base in beautiful, wealthy city. The Seattle SuperSonics were coming off of a wonderful run in the 1990s with Shawn Kemp and Gary Peyton (and Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins).
But the Grizzlies bailed on British Columbia in 2001, moving to Memphis. Seven years later, the Sonics followed suit; Seattle native and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sold the team to Oklahoman Clay Bennett in 2006, and Bennett wasted little time in moving the franchise to Oklahoma City. The Grizzlies are amid their second run of success in Memphis, this one far more rewarding than the string of sweeps accomplished with Pau Gasol, Shane Battier and the coaching styles of Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello in the early part of the new century.
This edition of the Grizzlies is far more weird, frankly, a throwback to those Vancouver years, where the plan seemed bizarre until it all came together beautifully. (It never came together beautifully in Vancouver, unfortunately.) Zach Randolph isn't all that different from Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a post-up power forward light on defense but big on scoring. And if you squint just so, you can see Greg Anthony sprinting the floor.
The Thunder had the foundation for success when they were still the Sonics, in 2007 having picked up Kevin Durant, the reigning two-time NBA scoring champion, and the youngest ever to accomplish the feat. The Sonics also picked up the draft pick that become the Thunder's star point guard Russell Westbrook, as well as the future Serge Ibaka. This is Seattle's roster, transplanted to Oklahoma City, where the fans have been magnificent, as they would have been in the Emerald City.
Instead of the I-5 series, we have the I-40 series. Only Seattle and Vancouver are a two-hour drive apart, and Memphis and OKC are seven hours apart. It'll be a special series for fans of the Thunder and Grizzlies, and hopefully all NBA fans. But if these teams were in their original homes, it could be have been a truly spectacular event for the basketball-crazy Pacific Northwest.