Kat Jayme grew up watching the Vancouver Grizzlies struggle though their short existence.
“I’m a huge basketball fan. I’ve loved it since I was seven years old,” she said, an age which just happened to coincide with the arrival of the National Basketball Association Grizzlies.
That love would lead Jayme to pursue creating a film based on the long-game Grizzlies, which is a finalist in the Emerging Filmmaker category at this year’s Yorkton Film Festival.
“I knew there was an audience,” she said, adding in their short time in Vancouver the team gained a loyal fan base who still long for the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies were established in 1995, along with the Toronto Raptors, as part of the NBA’s expansion into Canada.
Like most expansion teams, the Grizzlies struggled in their early years. The team finished last in the division in five of its seasons, and never won more than 30 per cent of its games in any of the team’s seasons in Vancouver. In total, the team won 101 games, lost 359, and never qualified for the NBA playoffs.
But there were a few shining lights for fans, one of them was supposed to be Bryant Reeves, taken sixth overall in the 1995 NBA draft.
It was Reeves who really cemented Jayme as a fan, although the big centre’s time with Vancouver was not exactly a time of stardom and success.
“Nicknamed “Big Country” by his college teammate Byron Houston after Reeves was amazed following his first airplane flight across the United States, having grown up in the small community of Gans, Oklahoma,” according to Wikipedia, Reeves stood seven feet (210 cm) tall and weighed between 125 and 136 kg, Reeves was an imposing physical presence, and was looked upon as a player to build the team around moving forward from the draft.
But it never quite worked out for Reeves, or for the Grizzlies.
“Reeves played six seasons with the Grizzlies. After averaging 13.3 points per game in a solid rookie season, he averaged 16.2 points per game in 1996–97 season and was subsequently awarded with a six-year, $61.8 million contract extension,” detailed Wikipedia. “The next season was his best, when he averaged 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.08 blocked shots per game. During that season he scored a career-high 41 points against the Boston Celtics.
“After 1998, weight-control problems and injuries began to take a toll on Reeves, and his numbers fell off dramatically. He was still the starting center for the Grizzlies, but his minutes per game dropped, and his field goal percentage dropped significantly.
Following the 2000–01 season, the team relocated to Memphis.
After the Grizzlies moved Reeves started the season on the injured list due to chronic back pain and was never able to play another game; the only games he played with the team in Memphis were two preseason games. He retired from the league midway through the 2001-02 season.
From that point on, Reeves just seemed to disappear, at least from the public eye.
But Jayme remembered Big Country fondly, and when she was in film school the idea of ‘finding Big Country’ to get his story took shape, ultimately leading to the film of the same name.
Initially, Jayme said the move of the Grizzlies didn’t have the impact on her that it would come to have as the years passed.
“I was quite young,” she said, noting she was only 12 at the time. “I don’t think I really realized what it meant – that they were gone for good.”
But with filmmaking in her blood – her grandfather was a successful director in his time in the Philippines – and her enduring love of the game Jayme said it was a natural to see a story in the team.
“I always wanted to tell the story of the Vancouver Grizzlies,” she said, adding her focus became Reeves, who had never really had commented on the team leaving Vancouver.
“I was always a huge fan. He was my favourite player,” she added.
The search for Big Country turned out to be just that for the fledgling filmmaker.
“I’m in Vancouver, how am I going to get someone in Oklahoma to talk to me?” she said, adding she had no contacts in the NBA, or in Oklahoma.
Finally, “a reporter led me to someone who may have known Bryant,” she said, adding the lead started the ball rolling for her.
Along the way she cold-called a number of people to help her with the story, having to quickly sell herself and her project, before they thought her a telemarketer.
“I explained I was a childhood fan who always wanted to tell this story,” she said.
It helped being one of those who did not see Reeves as something of a scapegoat for the Grizzlies failing, a high draft pick who ultimately fell short of expectations because of injuries.
Jayme admitted she went into the project with love in her heart for Reeves and the Grizzlies.
“I think that’s what helped me,” she said.
Jayme said when she finally made contact with Reeves, she found a humble man who wasn’t hiding from his basketball past, but was simply doing what he loved.
“He would rather be on his ranch, be with his family,” she said, adding that once contact was made, “it wasn’t hard at all to get him to talk.”
It helped that Jayme travelled to Reeves’ ranch.
“I was definitely the first one (interviewer) to go down to Oklahoma,” she said, adding that was a huge thrill for her. “Everyone has a childhood hero they wish they could spend a day with.”
Jayme said she found in Reeves a man who loved his time with the Grizzles, his man cave filled with memorabilia of the team.
“I think Bryant knew what he accomplished and was proud of those accomplishments,” she said, adding that is the story she hopes comes across in her film.
The Yorkton Film Festival runs May 23-26 in the city.