Tag Archives: Toronto Raptors

Last night in the NBA by the numbers

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Last night, in one of the most historically-relevant nights in NBA history, I couldn’t help but think about numbers. They were everywhere. Let’s break some of them down.

14 – The number of NBA games played last night. OK, that one was easy.

2 – The number of NBA games played last night that REALLY mattered. Sure, there was some Eastern Conference seeding to hammer out and the Houston Rockets clinched a playoff berth. But the two games that people will tell their grandkids about (the most reliable barometer for historical significance BTW) were the Golden State Warriors gunning for 73 wins in a single season and Kobe Bryant’s last NBA contest.

2 – The number of NBA streams I flipped between for about three hours from 10:30 p.m. ET onwards. Yup, it was a late night. And yup, I should have split-screened them. And yup, I’ll go to bed earlier tonight.

37 – The number of years since Kobe was born. His age, in other words.

20 – The number of consecutive seasons Kobe has been a Los Angeles Laker, the longest any NBA player has been with the same team. Death, taxes and Kobe being a Laker. Three things you can always count on.

Infinity – The number of damn celebs at this damn game. I mean I know this is L.A. but damn!

A fun hypothetical: How people would have reacted had Kobe dropped X number of points

X=15Good job, good effort. I mean, he averaged 17.6 points this season, well below his career average of 25, so this hovers around what he’s been doing all season. Makes sense. Thanks for the memories, #mamba.

X=25Alright, now we’re talking. A nice throwback effort from the Black Mamba. He hit his career average, a solid way to end his career. Enjoy retirement, Kobes!

X=40Yo, did Kobe really just do that?! That shit is crazy. I did not see that coming. This from a guy who shot 29% from three and 36% from the field this year?! SMDH. Hats off to Kobe. What a way to go out. Mad respect.

X=50Hold up, Kobe did WHAT?! You’re fucking with me, right? No way he did that. Dude IS like 50. Let me look up the box score. Damn, you’re right. #Mambaout indeed. Kobe dropped that mic and stepped on it.

60 – The number of points that Kobe scored last night in the final NBA game of his amazing career. That means that in the 2015-2016 NBA season, Kobe scored more in one game than any other player. Watching this unfold live was one of the most insane things I’ve seen on a basketball court. It was surreal. It was video game-like. It was like one of those cheesy yet fantastic Disney sports movies. It was everything anybody could have hoped for in Kobe’s finale.

50/50 – The odds that Kobe was going to have to be carried out on a stretcher (thumbs up raised to the sky just like a Disney movie) due to exhaustion. Seriously, he looked THAT tired.

Oh right, the other game. Well, the other game was ONLY the Warriors trying to win the most games EVER in an NBA season. Only.

72 – Prior to last night, the most wins in a single NBA season, set by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1995-96 campaign.

73 – The number of wins the Warriors achieved last night after beating the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104. The Grizz never stood a chance in this one. I don’t care how good Matt Barnes is at scowling.

30 – The number of dollars I won this year from betting on the Warriors 🙂

402 – The number of three pointers that Steph (i.e. Chef) Curry has made this season, the most in NBA history. Dude is lit from three.

286 – The second-highest number of three pointers made in a single season, accomplished last year by, wait for it, Curry. That means he broke his own record by 116. WTF.

276 – The third-highest number of three pointers made in a single season, accomplished this year by, wait for it, Curry’s backcourt mate, Klay Thompson. Yeah, they’re the heavy favourites to repeat as NBA champions, I’d say.

433 – The total number of three pointers made this season by the entire Milwaukee Bucks team.

2 – The number of days left until the NBA playoffs tip off. Can’t wait.

4 – The number of hashtags I’ll end this post with.

#ThankYouMamba #ThankYouWarriors #LetsGoRaps #WeTheNorth

 

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Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are currently the cutest thing on the Internet

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In case you haven’t noticed, a serious bromance has bloomed in the 6ix.

The state of the Raptors is pretty strong at the moment. Kyle Lowry was voted in as the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the second year running. DeMar DeRozan should also end up on the squad as a reserve. The game is set to tip off in a few weeks at the Air Canada Centre, the first time Canada will host an NBA All-Star Game. And thanks to last night’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raps now sport an eight-game winning streak, their longest in 14 years.

But this post isn’t about stats, team records or All-Star votes. It’s about the fact that Kyle and DeMar are currently the cutest couple on the Internet. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Exhibit A

You know you got a real pal when you start ribbing on each other. And that’s exactly what Kyle does in this video as he calls out DeMar for his suspect math skills. He even manages to throw in a USC dig, DeMar’s alma mater. When DeMar sheepishly says “I didn’t even go to college that long,” you kind of want to reach into the computer and give him a hug.

Exhibit B

At about the one-minute mark, you’ll see a mysterious water bottle enter the frame. This is Kyle messing with DeMar’s interview. At about the 1:30 mark, Kyle says DeMar gets his shot off “after 38 pump fakes,” leading to one of the most glorious laughs in the history of laughter. Pure joy.

Exhibit C

I’ll break this one down as best I can. It seems to me that DeMar tells Kyle he smells good and then Kyle (get this!) says thank you and says it’s the soap he bought him. I have so many questions about this!

  • Why is DeMar buying Kyle soap?
  • Can’t Kyle buy his own soap?
  • Was it a Christmas present?
  • What kind of soap was it?
  • What else does DeMar buy Kyle?
  • What does Kyle buy DeMar?

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

Exhibit D

In a video of outtakes, Kyle and DeMar can’t seem to nail down this read for the JUNO Awards. OK, maybe more so DeMar than Kyle.

Exhibit E

Kyle: Yo D, give me a piggyback.

DeMar: Aight bro but you do me next.

Kyle: Ya aight bro.

DeMar: Cool.

Exhibit F

I feel like this is a game that children play in grade school. But Kyle’s not afraid to bring it back! A theme is starting to develop here: Kyle seems to enjoy messing with DeMar’s interviews. Maybe we should expect DeMar’s revenge one of these days.

"We are the two best friends that anyone could have."

A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Exhibit G

And the fun just keeps on coming. After this past Friday’s win over the Miami Heat, Lowry was at it again, producing the following exchange:

DeMar: Y’all have a great day.

Kyle: It’s night-time.

Listen, all of these exchanges are awesome. As The Starters have been saying, these two are the best comedy duo in the NBA right now. They’re providing a lot of laughs for a lot of fans. Hell, you don’t even have to like basketball to find this amusing.

But all kidding aside, this chemistry bodes well for the future, both immediate and long-term. As is the same with any profession, if you get along with your coworkers outside of work, you’re more likely to be productive at work. Also, if you genuinely like your coworkers, you’re more likely to stay put.

And in a game where chemistry is second only to talent in terms of predicting success, here’s hoping this bond leads them to make some noise in the playoffs this year. If your two best players get along like this, you have to think it’ll trickle down to the rest of the team.

We currently sit 2.5 games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. And with all the changes and uncertainty facing that squad, finishing tops in the East isn’t totally out of the question.

So let’s raise a glass to the best comedy due in the NBA. Here’s hoping I’ll have to do a part two of this post.

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Here’s some reasons to get excited about the Raptors season

The Toronto Raptors have wallowed in mediocrity for the better part of their 20-year existence. For the most part, the experience of watching the Raptors over the years has been trying at best and depressing at worst. They’ve qualified for the post-season six times and have won ONE measly playoff round all the way back in 2001. Throughout their history, they have a win-loss record of 630-882, just under 42%. To be fair, we haven’t been the only tortured fan base in the league, seeing as how only 17 teams have ever won the chip. But there have been times when every new Raptors season has felt like a foregone conclusion: complete and utter insignificance.

Ladies and gentlemen, here to bring some much-needed positive vibes to this whole debacle, I present to you the 2014-15 NBA season. At the time of writing, the Raptors have the best record in the East (13-3) and the highest average point differential (10.6) in the entire league. Our record sits just a smidge behind two Western Conference powerhouses  in the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors.

Tack on a super-successful #WeTheNorth (#WeTheFourth?) marketing campaign and this season has been a ball so far. It’s finally time to feel good about our team. We’re deep, we’re likable, we have all kinds of swag, we have Drake sitting courtside, and we’re finally having fun playing basketball. Here’s some top moments so far.

 All things Drake

I’m trying my best to resist posting a series of pics and gifs of Drake being Drake and just calling it a day, dropping the mic. Because when he’s sitting in his courtside seat (sometimes in awesomely lame outfits such as the one above) clapping, cheering and generally going nuts, it’s hard to not get down with that. Love him or hate him, he’s one of the best (some might say the best) at his craft right now and he’s a legitimate fan of this team, having grown up in The 6.

Probably my favourite Drake moment of the year came at the George Constanza glasses/grandpa sweater game, a rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. In the fourth quarter, with the Raptors easily handling the Sixers, James Johnson broke free for a breakaway dunk. Old man Drake had quite the reaction:

Drake’s official title is the Global Ambassador for the Raps. I’m not entirely sure what that entails but if it means more Drake-ey things from his courtside seat, I’m all in. And I’m pretty sure an official Drake Cam is the best idea I’ve ever had. Just throw it in the top-right corner of the screen and we good.

The travelling band of merry Raptors’ fans

So we all know we have one of the best fanbases in the league. We’re loud, we’re passionate and we can be a little crazy, over the top even. In one of the more satisfying wins of the season, the Raptors travelled to Cleveland and soundly beat LeBron’s new superteam. But one of the more interesting aspects was something that was happening in the stands. In one section of the arena, there were, according to the Toronto Star, “a few hundred” diehard Raptors fans cheering on their team. Decked out in Raps gear, they were chanting and screaming their heads off. They even sang the Canadian national anthem at one point. In a classic backfire, the arena staff decided to turn up the music to drown out the pro-Toronto chants. And what did they play, you ask? Yup, they played Drake. Yeah, I doubt that did much to dampen their collective spirit.

Oh, and they didn’t stop once the game was over. Don’t let anybody tell you Toronto doesn’t love basketball. The Toronto Maple who?

The blowouts

Sure, we could have a real debate about strength of schedule. Eleven of the Raps’ 16 games have been in the friendly and supportive confines of the Air Canada Centre. They have played zero road games against the much tougher Western Conference. And they’ve played Orlando twice and Philadelphia once, both relatively easy outs. But the Raptors didn’t make the schedule. They have to play the teams the NBA tells them to play. Sure, it’s been favourable but what I’ve really liked is the ease in which they’re dispatching opponents. They beat Philly by 32, Utah by 18, Milwaukee by 42 and took down LeBron and co. by 18 in their house, apparently with the whole city of Cleveland behind them. All of these wins results in the 10.6 average point differential mentioned above, tops in the league. So sure, it hasn’t been the most gruelling schedule but this is a deep league where nearly every team can beat any other team.

#forgivevince

It was about time, right? It’s been a full ten years since Vince Carter left Toronto for New Jersey. And he’s been loudly booed ever since. Sure, he was far from perfect on his way out of Toronto whether it was not giving 100% on the court or childishly refusing to dunk. But he brought excitement and credibility to the Raptors around the same time the other Canadian team was going belly up out west. It’s time we forgive him. And earlier this month, the fans took a step in the right direction. After a video tribute played on the jumbotron, the fans stood up and gave him a standing ovation. Vince even shed a few tears.

This was the right thing to do. Finally, some closure. Now let’s start focusing on our team. And so far, what a team it’s been.

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Here’s what I noticed going from the upper bowl to the lower bowl at the Raptors game

 

At last night’s (long) triple-overtime Raptors’ loss to the Washington Wizards, we started out in the upper bowl. A couple of tickets were purchased off StubHub for the very reasonable price of $10 a pop. We were in the 15th row in the upper bowl. Not the best vantage point, but for less than the price of a beer at the Air Canada Centre, there wasn’t much to complain about.

People often talk about how the real fans are in the upper bowl and the lower bowl is filled with investment bankers entertaining clients. A simplistic view but when I took my seat, I found myself beside one of the realest fans I’ve seen. The guy was decked out in Raptors gear and had a Raptors flag to wave whenever something good happened. He had his extra-large pop by his feet to keep his vocal chords loose as he had a loud reaction to everything that happened on the court. He was ignoring whoever he went to the game with. Hopefully that person wasn’t expecting a conversation. I mean, this guy had tunnel vision.

Here’s an idea of just how passionate he was.  About a couple minutes into the game. Kyle Lowry headed to the free throw line. “C’mon Kyle, hit these!” he yelled. Lowry hits the first of two. “Nice going, KL! Make the pair!” he screamed. Lowry makes the second. “Way to go, KL! Way to hit those free throws! Let’s go Raps! Get back on D!” When a fan gets THAT excited about free throws, you know you have a superfan on your hands. Anyway, I dug this guy’s enthusiasm but we ended moving a few seats down just so he wasn’t screaming in our ears.

After halftime, we snuck down to the lower bowl. Shh. We weren’t too close to the court but had a much better view. But things felt different. You had less screaming passionate fans. People’s clothes were noticeably nicer and more expensive. More people were looking down at their phones. It wasn’t all bad, of course. When good things happened for the Raptors, people cheered, which was great. But it was a far cry from cheering for made free throws in the opening moments of the game.

Anyway, once the third overtime hit, a lot of fans had headed home and we saw an opportunity. A few moments later, we were down in the sixth row, the best seats I had had in almost 10 years. And down in this section, a quick scan around me made me realize I was mostly surrounded by suits, both the type of person and the garment. I’m not saying I was surprised by the lessening passion, nicer clothes and higher number of Blackberries as I made my way closer and closer to the court. It’s to be expected. This would happen at any event with different ticket prices. But it was interesting to see the gradual change in demographics as one’s seat improved.

And late in the third overtime, I looked up to our original spot and made out the superfan from earlier. Still there, still waving his flag, still screaming himself hoarse. Still loving the experience from the nosebleeds.

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I hate tanking but maybe we should do it anyway

No sports team should be incentivized to lose games yet here we are

Unless you have stacks upon stacks of cash like the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks, the best way to improve your team is likely through the NBA Draft, the annual tradition of 19-year-old basketball players stumbling through their first TV interviews.

Some of these guys will be good. Some great. And some will be Darko Milicic, a player who, by the way, EVERYBODY thought was going to be great, and then suddenly wasn’t. I guess even the experts are wrong sometimes.

The draft becomes that much more important when your team is located in a cold-climate city and you don’t have South Beach nightclubs to help convince free agents that this might be the city for them. Or when there’s no real history of winning associated with your ball club. Or when you’re named after a movie about dinosaurs. Or when it’s located IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY THAN THE REST OF THE NBA.

Hey NBA free agents, come to Canada!

Morally, I’m against it. I think it’s wrong. But I’m starting to come around to the idea that the best way to improve the Toronto Raptors is to lose a lot of games this season, what NBA fans refer to as “tanking.” Basically, the worse an NBA team’s record, the better its chances are of landing a high pick. Finishing 7th or 8th in your conference might get you a playoff berth but it’s also a good way to ensure that you continue getting a 7th or 8th seed (and likely a first-round playoff exit).

Most of the time, to be really good, you have to be really bad first.

I have problems with this system. I’m not the only one. A model that encourages teams to win less games on purpose just shouldn’t be part of professional sports, period. NBA players are getting paid millions and millions of dollars to lose? Are you serious?

Enter one of my least-favourite expressions: It is what it is. You can’t deny that this flawed system is what we have right now and as long as we do, it’d be shortsighted not to acknowledge its existence and act accordingly. If you don’t play the system, the system will play you (or something like that).

Here’s the guy everyone’s after

Want another reason why a chance at a top pick next year would be extra sweet? Well, barring injury, Toronto-born Andrew Wiggins will be the number one pick. There’s no point in even debating it. It’s happening.

Not only would this be great because he’s from Toronto. It would be great because he’s one of the most highly-touted players in recent memory. I’m reluctant to use the words “sure thing” because nothing in this world is for sure. But Wiggins is a sure thing in the same way that LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were sure things. He instantly becomes the face of whatever franchise selects him as soon as his name is called. The 18-year-old they call “Canada’s LeBron” is a franchise-changing talent. And teams are taking notice.

  • The Boston Celtics basically threw their 2013-14 season down the toilet when they traded away their two best players (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) for three first-round draft picks. This is a move towards the future. But it’s also a potential move towards the top of the stacked 2014 draft.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers shipped Jrue Holiday, their blossoming 23-year-old All-Star point guard, for the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, Nerlens Noel. Noel was expected to go much higher than sixth so there’s no doubt that the Sixers got a nice piece back. But this is hardly a win-now move. This is a tank now, win later move.
  • And depending on what you think of Andrea Bargnani, either the Raptors or the New York Knicks are trying to win less games this year. The Raptors traded Bargnani to the Knicks for a package headlined by Steve Novak and three picks. That’s how polarizing Bargnani is. You’re not even sure if you want him or not. Speaking of the Raptors, if they unload Rudy Gay to the Detroit Pistons for basically nothing, as has been reported, consider the Raptors to officially be in tank mode.

As a fan, the worst thing about tanking is playing a season without hope. It’s giving up on a season before it’s even begun. The Halloween tradition of “Maybe we’ll be good this year” turns into looking forward to the following Halloween. We are forced to put our hope on hold.

In Toronto, the tanking contingent has been alive and well for at least the past few seasons. “Just one more year of futility,” say the tanking advocates. But at a certain point, don’t you just have to be satisfied with what you have and go ahead and leave it all out on the floor? Remember that thing called effort?

This is the problem with having a mediocre to bad NBA team. The idea of tanking is always hanging there, tempting those who understand the business of the NBA. A league that rewards poor play (especially when teams know this and react accordingly) goes against the fundamental spirit of sports.

But it is what it is. So sure, let’s take a swing at Wiggins. If we miss, we can always tank again. I heard the 2015 Draft is promising.

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Five random, bulleted thoughts regarding the NBA

So I read a lot of columns, sports or otherwise. And whenever I see a piece that’s bulleted, my first thought is to deem the writer lazy. Because a bulleted article allows the writer to hand something in to his/her editor that doesn’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s pretty much just random thoughts. For those of you who remember essay writing from your university days, bulleted columns essentially lack a thesis statement. But hey, we lead busy lives, right? Not all of us have time for thesis statements, rising action, conclusions, and whatever other components make up an official essay these days. All that being said, here are some of my bulleted thoughts. Feel free to call me lazy because you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

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Kobe Bryant on his own team: “We’re old as shit.” I love this guy.

  • How in the world are the Los Angeles Lakers (15-16) a sub-500 team? We all expected a getting-to-know-each-other phase. Not many people expected them to come flying out of the gates. But this? If the season were to end today, the Lakers would finish as the 10th seed in the Western Conference and miss the playoffs. If I had more energy, I’d look up the last time that happened. OK fine, I’ll look it up. They last missed the playoffs in 2004-05. One other tidbit: Since 1948, they’ve missed the playoffs a total of five times. Thanks, Wikipedia. Anyway, coming into the season, it was clear to me and everyone else who cared that they had a measly excuse for a bench, “highlighted,” I suppose, by 36-year-old Antawn Jamison. But I thought given their starting lineup of multiple All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol and one-time All-Star (look it up) Metta World Peace, they’d, at the very, very least, be a playoff team. If this team doesn’t put together a winning streak soon, chants of “We Want Phil” may start raining down at the Staples Centre once again. Or maybe “We Want Andrea.” Wouldn’t that be sweet?
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Yes you do, Matt Barnes. Yes you do. That’s why Clips fans love you. And opposing fans, well, don’t.

  • Oh, I ain’t done with the City of Angels just yet. If the Lakers have been bad, their stadium-mates have been, well, great. That’s right. The Clippers, perhaps at one point the biggest laughing stock in any sport, consistently dismissed as the clumsy little brother to the Lakers, didn’t drop a game during the month of December as they amassed 17 straight wins. 17! They have the best record in the league! Unlike the Lakers, their bench has a collection of guys who would start on most other teams. The Clippers!? With the Lakers falling like flies and the Clippers rising like stars, the city of Los Angeles is truly embroiled in a bizarro world-type situation. Oh, and they play each other tomorrow. You don’t think both LA squads will be up for that one? Please let Gasol pat Chris Paul’s head again. Please. And in case you were wondering, since 1970, the Clippers have qualified for the playoffs a grand total of eight times. Ocho!
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He seems like perfectly nice guy so he’s only here because he’s the oldest player in the league. In your face, Grant Hill!

  • Let’s start off by reviewing the ages of some of these New York Knickerbockers. Kurt Thomas: 40. Jason Kidd: 39. Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace: both 38. Amar’e Stoudemire: plays defence like he’s 38. Just kidding. Well, not really. For the record, he’s 30. To be fair, of these senior citizens, only one, Kidd, plays more than 20 minutes per game at 29.9. Coming into the season, I expected the Knicks’ age to show. But thanks to an MVP-like performance so far from Carmelo Anthony as well as an honourable mention to J.R. Smith’s decision to stay away from the New York nightlife, this team is 21-10 and currently in second place in the Eastern Conference behind LeBron et. al. Now, as we all know, the East is (how should I put this politely?) inferior to the West but still. The Knicks could potentially beat Miami in a seven-game series. They’ve already done it twice this year, by a combined 40 points, actually.
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Will this happen again in June? I’d put their chances at 60-40.

  • As for the aforementioned Heatles, they’re doing pretty much what I expected. They have the best record in the East but the fourth-best record in the league. There’s no doubt the champs are playing well but isn’t there a feeling that they could have a better record at this point? A vague sense that because they realize the weakness of their conference, that they’re not playing full bore at this point? They’re smart enough to know that preserving their bodies for a deep playoff run should be their top priority right now, not winning games in November and December. They should focus on getting the top seed in the East and not on shooting for any single-season record at this point. Win the East, win the “statement games” such as their Christmas tussle with the Thunder on Christmas day and they should be just fine.
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No comment.

  • So I can’t talk about every team so let’s just move right along to my home squadron: The Toronto Raptors. I, along with many members of the media, were putting forward a strong sense of cautious optimism at the beginning of the season. Given that the pucks were in a lockout, I was hoping (praying) for some Cinderella-type story that seems to mostly happen in the movies but sometimes materializes in real life. In an ideal world, the Raps come out of the gates strong, beating teams nobody expected them to beat, eventually wrapping up the season somewhere in the 2-4 seed range in the East. Meanwhile, the NHL owners and players are forced to cancel the entire season, putting the Raptors directly in the spotlight in Hogtown. After that, who knows what could have happened? But winning a round and maybe even losing out to the Heat in the Conference Finals would have been priceless for the game of basketball in Toronto as well as Canada. As we all know, this will likely not happen. Because from November 20 to December 12, the Raptors lost 12 of 13 games (we beat Phoenix at home!), putting us at 4-19 on the season. The good news? What we’ve done since then. Coincidentally, once Bargnani left the lineup due to injury, the Raps magically started stringing together some wins, namely eight of their last nine. Now I’m no rocket scientist. I can’t even tipe corretcly but it seems we may be a better team without our no-doubt-talented yet no-doubt-unmotivated no. 1 pick. And according to ESPN, he’s a lock to be traded. Please take note of the four exclamation points after the topic name. And this is a pro-Raptors site. ‘Nuff said.

 

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The Raptors may make a splash in immigrant-rich Canada

Jose Calderon hails from Spain and is one of the many international players on the roster.

The Toronto Raptors are often dubbed, “Canada’s team.” However, despite their strongholds in Toronto and the GTA, the Raptors have yet to make a significant mark on the rest of the country, especially here in Quebec.

The people in Spain think it’s a great team,” said Spaniard Jose Calderon, Toronto’s starting point guard.

This simple example of patriotism has actually been a useful marketing tool for the Raptors. This is because, in Canada’s big cities especially, diversity is a way of life. From little Italy to Chinatown, ethnic enclaves consume and enrich our metropolises. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why the Raptors are managing to stay relevant in Quebec and other weak markets.

We have many Italian and Spanish people coming in for Bargnani and Calderon jerseys,” said Santana Encrique, owner of Crescent Sports in Montreal. “But basketball is nothing, maybe 5 per cent of sales.”

As we all know, the popularity of the Raptors in Toronto and the GTA is strong. Although they lag behind the Leafs and the Jays in terms of news coverage, one need only check out a playoff game at the ACC to see and feel the passion. But in a hockey crazy country like Canada, basketball needs all the help it can get. And the international makeup of the Raptors is helping them to slowly chip away at hockey’s superiority by drawing in a dynamic demographic of European immigrants from across the country.

Consider that the Raptors starting lineup this year will include a Spaniard (Calderon), an Italian (Bargnani), and a Turk (Turkoglu) and you can see why many immigrants to Canada will relate to these guys. To be sure, this aspect is helping but it is not the solution. To be fair, we should remember that the Raptors are still a young team, only 15 years old.

They don’t exactly have a deep tradition yet,” said Eric Smith, play-by-play radio announcer for the team. “And, to be fair, in the 15 years of existence, playoff success has been few and far between and the club has only been out of the 1st round once. So it may take some time.”

A high-flying superstar wouldn’t hurt either. For example, Encrique admitted that when Vince Carter was dazzling the sports world with his acrobatic dunks in a Raptors uniform, sales were high in Montreal. But the biggest draw for fans remains success.

They need to go to the playoffs consistently to bring in fans,” Encrique said. “At the least, they must be in the semifinals.”

So what more can the Raptors do to promote their brand nationwide? It seems like they are already doing a lot.

From charity events to things like the 3 on 3 competition, I believe the Raptors do a solid job of getting out in the communities across the country and not just in Toronto, whenever they can,” said Smith. “ And don’t forget that every Raptors’ game is broadcast across the country. That doesn’t happen in the U.S.”

But even with the hockey-centric fans and the struggles they have had outside of the GTA, Calderon is staying upbeat, maintaining that he feels the support of the country.

I see Raptors jerseys all over the world,” he said. “I think the other teams are just playing for a city but we play for a country. I feel a lot of support in Toronto. It’s true that hockey is the first sport in Canada, but we are working on that.”

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