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Basketball, Sports

The original Vancouver Grizzlies logo was a Toronto Raptors reject

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Rob Williams May 22, 2019 5:27 pm 652

The Toronto Raptors were almost named the Toronto Grizzlies, with the same colours and artwork of the NBA team that found a brief home in Vancouver.

This is according to Tom Mayenknecht, host of the Sport Market on TSN 1040 and a former executive with both franchises during the mid-1990s.

Speaking on TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver recently, Mayenknecht told an interesting tale about the logo origin story for both of Canada’s NBA expansion franchises – ahead of today’s 25th anniversary of the Toronto Raptors brand.

Though they both began play during the 1995-96 season, Toronto and Vancouver were not awarded franchises at the same time. With each franchise agreeing to pay a $125 million USD expansion fee, Toronto was officially awarded a franchise on November 4, 1993 – before Vancouver on April 27, 1994.

That meant that the Raptors got a head start on things like marketing and branding.

“When we did the work on what were the possible names, we had Raptors, Bobcats, Dragons, and Grizzlies,” Mayenknecht said in an interview with TSN 1040’s Matt Sekeres and Blake Price. “We had artwork for the Toronto Grizzlies that wound up being the Vancouver Grizzlies logo. We were so close and worked with NBA Properties, that the Grizzlies just adapted what had been the Toronto Grizzlies, and they made it the Vancouver Grizzlies.”

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As it turned out, the name Grizzlies suited Vancouver well – given the animal is native to the region – though the NBA liked “Dragons” for Vancouver at one point.

“The Toronto Dragons – that is one that the league really would have liked to have seen possibly here in Vancouver,” Mayenknecht added.

The Toronto NBA expansion group appeared to really hit it out of the park with their designs, as the ‘Bobcats’ artwork was eventually used as the prototype for the expansion Charlotte Bobcats in 2004 according to Mayenknecht. They reverted back to the Hornets nickname in 2014.

As for the Dragons design, it was nearly responsible for renaming the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets). They were going to be called the “Swamp Dragons.”

The Grizzlies, for their part, were originally going to be known as the “Vancouver Mounties,” unveiling a logo and everything, but changed course after licensing problems with the RCMP. They considered Ravens and Dragons before eventually settling on Grizzlies.

“That’s how the NBA worked,” Mayenknecht explained. “We took all the popular names, logos, and designs – we took one for Toronto, Vancouver took the Grizzlies, and then these other franchises took logos that were developed in 1994.”

Image: Vancouver Grizzlies

Before settling on “Raptors,” the Toronto franchise instituted a nationwide “Name Game” contest to choose a team identity. The top 10 list included Raptors, Grizzlies, Bobcats, and Dragons – as well as Beavers, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers.

While the Raptors franchise is now well established, the team actually considered a name change in 2013. They eventually settled on a rebrand in 2014 instead, ditching the cartoon dinosaur in favour of the current logo.

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