Warm Vancouver saves cold draft for Francis

Scenic city offended by turned-off Terp

July 20, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- As night approaches, the view from Vanier Park in West Vancouver is majestic.

Glance to the left across the English Bay, and in the distance you see the glow of the setting sun seemingly bouncing atop the snow-capped North Shore mountains. Off to the right, where the Burrard Bridge crosses False Creek, there's a view of a magnificent downtown skyline that is as impressive as any city.

"How can you not appreciate this?" says Quentin Antoine, 24, who takes in this view every time he comes to shoot hoops at Vanier, whose outdoor courts are some 50 yards off the beach. "This is a beautiful city."

Judging from the reaction of Steve Francis on June 30 when he was selected by the Vancouver Grizzlies with the second pick of the NBA draft, this city in British Columbia might as well have been in Siberia. Having seen Elton Brand go to the Chicago Bulls as the No. 1 pick, Francis sulked when his name was called, took a long, slow stroll to the podium at the MCI Center and afterward told the media that maybe he might wake up happy the next day.

Let's say that Francis is not a popular man in this city, whose citizens took his actions as a slap in the face. That might make for an interesting encounter tomorrow when Francis -- three weeks to the day after being drafted -- will officially meet a media contingent still in search of reasons for his antics.

Has Francis, who made a secret trip here two weeks ago for a brief meeting with general manager Stu Jackson, had a change of heart? That is unclear, since the junior guard out of Maryland has been silent and his agent, Jeff Fried, has chosen not to return calls.

What's clear here is that the Grizzlies badly want Francis, and are looking forward to adding him to a young nucleus of guard Mike Bibby and forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim in their quest to become one of the NBA's better young teams.

"I'm not worried about whether it will work out, because I know it will," coach Brian Hill said yesterday from Los Angeles, where the Grizzlies are fielding a team in a summer league. "When we get down to the business of playing basketball, then I think all of these little things will be put aside and he'll play the best basketball he possibly can.

"The important thing right now is for Steve to come up and address the media and address some of the accusations made and for people to hear his side of it," said Hill, who will fly up to Vancouver for the news conference. "And then people will make their judgments from there."

Going from the reactions of fans in a city in which basketball is a fast-growing sport, many of the judgments made about Francis are hardly positive.

"Going into the draft, I wanted Francis to come play for us because he's exciting and that's what we need," said 19-year-old Frank Perovic, a self-described lifelong basketball fan. "And then when he gets drafted, puts his head down, and takes a long time to get to the commissioner.

"We wanted him, and then he does that," Perovic said from his seat alongside the Vanier Park courts. "It was a disrespect to the city, and a disrespect to the fans."

Vancouver at a glance

Things Steve Francis (and others) might not know about Vancouver: It boasts a metropolitan population of 1.8 million.

It has the second-biggest Chinatown in North America (San Francisco has the largest), with many Asians immigrating here from Hong Kong.

The Port of Vancouver is the largest Pacific port in the Americas, with about 30 ships passing through daily.

Weather-wise, outside of the rain, the city is comfortable, with the coldest month -- January -- averaging lows that are above freezing (33 degrees).

The crime rate is low, the people are friendly and many of the waterfront high-rise residential towers offer splendid views of the area's natural scenery.

"I came here 24 years ago from Seattle to visit a friend and I never left," said Patrick Martin, a men's clothing salesman at Eaton's department store. "I find it one of the most livable cities I've ever been in. It's safe, it's modern. With merging of water and mountains, aesthetically it's a jewel."

Noah Crum, assistant general manager and legal counsel for the Grizzlies, agrees.

"We feel the city is a huge selling point," said Crum, who, prior to his four years with the Grizzlies, worked as an associate counsel with the league office.

"But to a lot of young players, it's another country. And it's especially hard for a young player leaving college and stepping out on their own for the first time."

While Francis was the most obvious player in his apparent initial disdain for the city, he's not the first. When Bibby was drafted in the first round by Vancouver in 1998, he didn't appear thrilled.

"This is something that we've faced before," said Jackson, Vancouver's general manager. "It's just something that we have to deal with."

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