Eleven minutes is all it took Kathleen Jayme to respond to my Twitter DM.
Last winter, in the middle of production of her newest documentary, “The Grizzlie Truth”, which hopes to explain how the Vancouver Grizzlies left Vancouver, she welcomed a chat but (respectfully) declined an in-person interview due to the workload of the film.
The film has since made its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival earlier this year, and will make its Toronto theatrical debut Dec. 10 at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema.
When we agreed to speak on the phone, I could tell she was a little hesitant to talk about her upcoming documentary. There was a hint of reservation in her voice.
“Well, yeah, I don’t know much I can say,” she would say whenever I asked for specific details about the film.
“I can say that I spent the past seven, eight years getting the inside scoop, talking to those who were there, firsthand, and can explain to me what happened.”
I understood and didn’t press for more details, but still, a nagging thought went through my mind about what truly happened to the Grizzlies that hasn’t already been reported.
Four years ago, Jayme made international headlines for her first documentary, “Finding Big Country”, that chronicled a search for her childhood idol, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, the Vancouver Grizzlies’ first-ever NBA draft pick.
“Finding Big Country” received critical acclaim and was broadcasted on major Canadian sports channels like TSN and Sportsnet, and ESPN, ABC, and Amazon Prime in the U.S.
“The Grizzlies left abruptly. From an outsider’s perspective, I can understand why people are still angry and confused.”
When the Grizzlies left town, reportedly due to financial losses, Jayme was 12 years old and didn’t understand why they were leaving. She often went to games with her family — memorably, one night, she sat near the visitor’s tunnel and watched Charles Barkley warm up and play.
However, she was hopeful Vancouver would get another team back one day.
It wasn’t until a few years went by that the illusion in her mind faded, and she started to wrap her head around the idea that the Grizzlies were never coming back to Vancouver.
I was three years old when the Grizzlies left Vancouver. I have no memories of seeing them on television, or their logo on billboards. Like Jayme, my childhood brain also couldn’t comprehend why a team would leave a city — my city. A city where I spent all but two years of my childhood when my dad temporarily relocated to Victoria for work.
While I’ve grown to accept that betrayal, love, and loss are factors of life, today, I still feel robbed of the chance to experience what the Vancouver Grizzlies were all about.
To me, the Grizzlies still exist as a figment of my imagination. Once my dad attended a game where the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan played the Grizzlies. As I grew up, every now and then, when we would shoot hoops in my front yard, I’d ask him what it was like to watch MJ in our hometown.
I’d notice his eyebrows raise and head tilt back as he recollected Jordan toying with the Grizzlies defence. I sat on every word, waiting, hoping that this form of storytelling would make up for all the games we never had the chance of attending.
At its core, fandom is all about loyalty. So when the very team that spawns that loyalty is removed, how are fans supposed to react?
The Grizzlies never had a bonafide franchise player or won more than 23 games in a season, yet the allure of the team has only grown in Vancouver since they left 21 years ago.
I often see Vancouverites strut Grizzlies jerseys, snapbacks, and varsity jackets.
The popular American retailer Mitchell & Ness and the NBA’s official online store market the team’s old apparel online, a pop-up shop of Grizzlies gear made waves in Vancouver for a weekend in 2018, and in recent years the Memphis Grizzlies have celebrated their Vancouver roots by wearing vintage “VANCOUVER GRIZZLIES” jerseys in games.
“I was in heaven,” says Trevor Jones, who served as “Super Grizz,” the first mascot in Vancouver Grizzlies history, from 1995 to 1997.
“I remember walking around the stadium, looking around, and thinking, ‘wow, this is going to be my playground.”
Over two decades later, Jones, who has gone on to work as a stunt performer in the film industry, still calls the role of Super Grizz — a mascot for a woeful team on the court — the biggest accomplishment of his life.
How does a team that no longer exists still conjure up these feelings of desire? Lust? And inspiration to make new documentaries?
“People don’t appreciate what they have until it’s taken away from them,” Jones says.
“So with us losing an NBA franchise, it’s a kick in the balls. It’s like how could we have let this happen?”
As a Filipino-Canadian, Jayme says, basketball has always come naturally to her.
Jayme played basketball throughout grade school and dreamed of becoming the first woman to play in the NBA, but she was always one of the smallest players on the court (she stands a little over five feet tall) and made her mother shriek whenever she drove the lane.
But Jayme was able to overcome her short stature to become her high school’s point guard.
“Why do you think basketball comes so naturally to you?” I ask.
For 17 seconds, Jayme thinks, and rattles off phrases like “I mean,” and “I guess,” before mentioning that she is still in the process of waking up.
“In the Philippines, our national sport is basketball,” she says. “Growing up, that was something I always clung to, and that made sense, because that is the sport of the Philippines.”
When she graduated high school and enrolled at the University of British Columbia, Jayme tried out for the varsity basketball team. She had high hopes of making the squad, and passed the first tryout. On the second tryout, however, nerves got the best of her and was cut from the team.
“It was, probably, the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
But it was also her biggest motivation to become a successful filmmaker. After being cut from the UBC team, Deb Huband, the head coach at the time, offered Jayme the chance to scrimmage with the team during the summer.
Although she was initially embarrassed to workout with the team — fearful of being stigmatized as ‘the girl who was cut’ — Jayme earned the respect of the team, and felt confident she could run with them by the end of the summer.
“That made such a huge positive impact in my life,” she says. “We get rejected all the time in film so it’s something I’m glad I went through.”
Everything Jayme learned on the basketball court has transferred into her life as a director. Particularly the qualities of how to be a team leader, handle losses, and bring out the best in everyone.
A month after our first phone call, Jayme agrees to another call before she has to get to work on “The Grizzlie Truth”.
It’s easy to hear the passion in Jayme’s voice talking about her two biggest passions in life. There’s a notch of excitement in her tone, the words flow from her mouth, and she easily connects the dots from her biggest failure to her rising filmmaking career.
While she would be pumped for Vancouver to get an NBA team again, Jayme wants to also raise awareness around the potential of bringing a WNBA team to the city.
“Hey man,” she says. “NBA, WNBA, I’m the first in line to get season tickets.”
In two days, Jayme mentions, she’s flying out to New York City for an impromptu shoot for The Grizzlie Truth.
“Can I ask, like, what you are doing in New York? Are you interviewing somebody?” I ask.
She jumps at the question and responds by mentioning how she plans on interviewing a bunch of former Grizzlies.
“I guess there’s, like, a bunch of them living in New York now or something?” I prod a bit further.
“Yes… yeah,” she replies.
Two days before another shoot, two days closer to more answers. Two days closer to the film’s release. Two days closer to meeting a group of athletes, she, myself, and countless fans around Vancouver spent our childhood years hoping to see up close one day.
“Can I ask who you’re speaking to?”
“Josh,” she says with a small laugh. “I’m afraid I can’t say.”
“The Grizzlie Truth” screens Dec. 10 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, as well as in select theatres across Canada. Find tickets here.