Whatever happened to Bryant Reeves?
For most of filmmaker Kat Jayme’s life, the question existed without an answer. A longtime basketball fan who came of age watching the Vancouver Grizzlies, she set out to find the team’s most elusive and forgotten star.
In Finding Big Country, which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Jayme relives the Grizzlies era in Vancouver, along with the impact of the team’s most well-known player. With a signature buzz cut and massive frame, Big Country defined the Grizzlies’ tenure in Canada, as both a fan favourite and pariah.
“He was the biggest guy on the court, I knew he was our franchise player, and as a kid, he had the coolest nickname,” she says. “You don’t forget that.”
In six seasons with the Grizzlies, Reeves averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds, but became plagued by injuries, playing just 25 games in the lockout-shortened season of 1998-99. By the time the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis, the seven-foot centre had disappeared from the game, and seemingly vanished without a trace.
“[Reeves] was considered like the holy grail of interviews in Vancouver, because no one had seen or heard of him since the Grizzlies left town.” – Kat Jayme
“There were a lot of rumours as to what happened [with the Grizzlies] — a lot of finger-pointing, I think. But when they left, they really left,” says Jayme. “Like, there were no more remnants of the Grizzlies in Vancouver. And with Bryant, he kind of just disappeared.”
“After speaking to so many reporters here in Vancouver,” she adds, “he was considered like the holy grail of interviews in Vancouver, because no one had seen or heard of him since the Grizzlies left town.”
An accomplished filmmaker with a love for basketball, Jayme had found what she’d been looking for: a killer story.
How does a seven-footer disappear? And how do you find someone who’d prefer to avoid the spotlight? Jayme called former players and executives, and the answer was always the same: None of them had heard from Big Country. On a lark, she discovered a story a reporter had written in Oklahoma. Jayme’s quest led her to Reeves’ hometown of Gans, population 312.
“There’s no stoplight. You can literally drive through it in 30 seconds,” she says. “I just started calling everyone, and word got around finally that, ‘Hey Bryant, there’s this girl from Vancouver who’s calling everyone, and she wants to make a film about you.’ When I spoke to Bryant, he told me, ‘You have my friends to thank, because they’re the ones who really vouched for you.’”
What does one say to their childhood hero? How much can you expect? In Reeves, Jayme finds a quiet and kind soul who has found new life running a cattle ranch.
“He was kind of a scapegoat at one point. I think we’re changing that narrative now,” she says. “He’s just so proud to be a Vancouver Grizzly, and I loved learning that about him.”
“He was kind of a scapegoat at one point. I think we’re changing that narrative now.” – Kat Jayme
Longtime Grizzlies fans will remember the years of athletes overlooking Vancouver — players like Steve Francis refusing to suit up for the team. Reeves, says Jayme, was the opposite:
“Back then, there were so many players who did not want to play for us — who didn’t want anything to do with Vancouver — so it was really cool to find out that he wanted to be here, he liked it here.”
Finding Big Country has seen a tremendous response from hoops fans since its premiere, with more screenings on the way in Toronto and Oklahoma.
Could Vancouver support a basketball team today?
“Oh yeah. For sure,” says Jayme. “And I think that’s one of the main goals of this film is to get the conversation going to bring a team back here. We’ve had four sold-out screenings in Vancouver already, and I think that just goes to show the appetite [for basketball]. Vancouver is a basketball city, more now than it was in the late nineties when the team was here. I think it’s a matter of time.”
This episode of Story Untold is produced by Emma Tyrrell (emmatyrrell.com).