NBA All-Star Steve Francis had put the past—what happened his rookie year after being drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies—behind him completely when he was suddenly approached by Kat Jayme, a filmmaker and longtime fan, who was hoping to tell his story in a documentary that would uncover the truth behind what happened to the franchise before relocating to Memphis. After publicly expressing his sentiments about playing in Vancouver, followed by a trade to Houston, Francis admits now over Zoom that he didn’t even pay much attention to the controversy throughout his entire NBA career. That is, until James boldly traveled all the way to a signing event in Houston just to meet him and ask if he could be a part of the film. That project would later become, The Grizzlie Truth, which is now premiering at the Toronto Film Festival.
Jayme didn’t come empty handed, though. She’d brought along a giant poster of an animation of Francis on draft day wearing his Houston Rockets jersey with the Vancouver Grizzlies logo in the background. The gesture was enough to impress the former No. 1 pick.
“For somebody to come to Houston, Toyota Center, where my face is planted all throughout the [arena], knowing how people looked at me in Vancouver, at that point, I was surprised,” Francis says of meeting Jayme for the first time. He later adds: “I would have never thought about coming [to Vancouver] if I wouldn’t have [met] Kat, but, you know, people have different effects on people and the way that she came [to me] was very respectful. That’s what opened the door.”
Jayme admits on the same Zoom call that she was nervous to even approach Francis in the first place. She had a script prepared, which she wrote down on her hands, and was pacing back and forth outside of the arena while practicing how she was going to introduce herself, let alone convince him to be a part of the film. “Steve is part of the Vancouver Grizzlies’ history. And so, that was kind of my pitch to him, like, You are a part of this story. I am making this film [and] I’d love for you to be a part of it because we need to talk about what happened. I would love for you to have your own voice in it because people are gonna be talking about you.”
The pitch, and Jayme’s sincerity, worked. Not just Francis, but also convincing former players, coaches and members of the Vancouver Grizzlies organization to be interviewed for the film. The result is a candid and captivating investigation into the long lost history of the team, and ultimately what led to the franchise leaving Vancouver.
To learn more about what went into filming The Grizzlie Truth, and the impact the film has on retelling a piece of NBA history, SLAM caught up with Jayme and Francis while they were in Vancouver promoting the film. It was the first time Francis had been back there in over 20 years.
SLAM: When did you, Kat, first start thinking about making this film?
KAT JAYME: When I was in university, I went to film school, and I think, you know, I was so into 30 for 30s and I was just like, I have the perfect story—the story of the Vancouver Grizzlies. I think every filmmaker has that one story in their career that they want to tell and for me it was the story of Vancouver Grizzlies, mainly because I knew my personal connection to the team—I have photographs of me at games, I have footage, as you see in the film of me at games, I have childhood drawings of the team, I have all these, like, all the toys. Documentaries that I love are ones that have many layers, and I just knew with the archival that I had, that it was the right story for me to tell.
SLAM: That’s amazing, and for you, Steve, what was it like to have someone tell your story? Were you nervous at all?
STEVE FRANCIS: Uh, because the last image the Vancouver fans had of me was at the [NBA] Draft [and] the hostility every time I played here, it kind of felt a little relieving to be able to talk to somebody who wanted to hear my side of the story and did not just put me in a box [about] what was said about me in ‘99 until probably this film. I still get people from Vancouver that’ll say, “What are you doing here? We don’t like you.” But, I’ve been through so much so that doesn’t mean anything to me.
KJ: I feel like that’s gonna change after people watch the film.
SLAM: Steve, how did you begin to process everything and the adversity you had to deal with and still go out there on the court every night?
SF: If you look at my NBA career and the way I played, it didn’t make a difference what was said about me. So, until I retired and Kat brought it back up, I never really thought about retouching on it. I [took] some shots here and there, I couldn’t take shots at the whole city, but they continuously do it every time my name is mentioned, but, you know, it’s full circle like I was explaining earlier.
SLAM: On that note, Kat, as a filmmaker did you feel a sense of responsibility in telling not only Steve’s story, but the entire history of the franchise? How do you think Vancouver Grizzlies fans will react to this film?
KJ: For the past four years, [I] have just been working on this film nonstop. And so, obviously, there’s the nervousness that comes with sharing your work, especially when it’s such a deeply personal story. We shared the film with a few die hard Grizzlie fans I know and the response, especially after they’d [watched] Steve’s story on screen, it’s been overwhelmingly positive, and everyone has just been like, Yeah, [I] can’t hate on Steve anymore, Kat. So, that’s been really great and I wanted to make sure that we did some test screenings with a few Grizzlies fans.
I think it won’t take a lot for [people’s] tune to change. I think as soon as you watch the film, you see Steve in a different light and that light is just as a human being. And I think before in the ‘90s, we were just seeing him as an athlete. But of course, these athletes and these people who worked on these teams are people. They’re human, too, and I think that’s one of the things that I’d love for people to come away with after watching this film.
SLAM: We won’t spoil what happens in the film, but there’s definitely a pretty incredible moment of community and connection throughout. Kat, as a longtime Vancouver Grizzlies fan, are you rocking with this year’s Memphis squad at all? Or are you strictly loyal to Vancouver?
KJ: I’m grateful for the friendships that this film has brought about with Steve and with the fans that I met when I was in Memphis. The idea of cheering for Memphis before this film was just like a straight-up hard pass. Like, heck no. But now, you know, I’ve come to realize that the Grizzlies, they’re as much Memphis’ team as Vancouver’s team. They’ve been in Memphis for 20 years. That’s over double the time that we had them here in Vancouver.
I think one of the messages that I hope that fans get after watching this film is that it’s not like an us versus them mentality. Antonio Braxton Jr. said it perfectly in the interview, Why can’t we share the team? Why does this need to be Memphis versus Vancouver? So, I think Vancouver fans should be proud that the Grizzlies are still alive today and they’re doing well in Memphis and we had a hand in that. We are a part of that history as well.