In celebration of the Toronto Raptors' 20th season, we'll be taking a look at some key moments in the team's history. What was the context of the moment? What was its significance? And what song were you listening to as it happened? Welcome to the XX-Files.
A couple of weeks ago Muggsy Bogues was given a brief video tribute at the ACC. It was a nice moment, despite the fact he only played 83 games for Toronto. Some Raptors are just memorable that way.
Consider Matt Bonner. At almost 35, Bonner is in his 11th season in the league. He's been with the San Antonio Spurs for the past nine years. During that time he's won two NBA titles, competed in the All-Star Three-Point Contest, and even led the league in three-point field goal percentage (in 2011). This is to say nothing of his role as the Sandwich Hunter. He continues to have a nice career.
But mention Bonner to any Raptors fan and they'll be quick to remind you that his first two seasons were in Toronto.
Against the Timberwolves, playing behind young future All-Star Chris Bosh, Donyell Marshall, and (gulp) Loren Woods, Bonner was just 24 games into his career. But on that day, the Legend of the Red Rocket began to take shape:
As fights go, this really isn't much. Morris Peterson and Rafer Alston (the voice of reason, naturally) were quick to get Bonner out of the way. And despite Latrell Sprewell's best efforts, things don't escalate into mayhem. But there's a gleam in the Red Rocket's eye; he was ready to call KG's bluff. This was a second round pick (45th overall) going toe-to-toe with one of the best players of all time during his career peak.
Ultimately, it was a nothing game in a bad season (the Raps finished 33-49), but it's the kind of moment Torontonians remember. Even if, like Bonner, you're only around for a short time.
As a soundtrack to a near-fight, "Drop It Like It's Hot" is oddly appropriate. It's made of tightly wound beats and full of a certain coiled menace. It suggests control with just the hint of violence. It's also a legendary track in the careers of both Snoop Dogg and Pharrell.
That said, I'm fairly confident Matt Bonner has never sat down to listen to it. It doesn't seem like his kind of tune.
A tough bit of coincidence here for the T-Wolves and our #1 movie of the week, Ocean's Twelve. In the 2003-04 season, Minnesota had its most successful post-season in franchise history, losing in six games to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. While the same core - Garnett, Sprewell, and Sam Cassell - was still intact, the following year was hardly as successful. The 2004-05 team the Raps faced off against in December didn't even make the playoffs.
Ditto Ocean's Twelve. Despite the return of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, the sequel to Ocean's Eleven (still one of the most watchable movies ever), just didn't have the same magic as the original.
There are three ways to become famous in the Toronto sports scene. The first and best way is to be awesome. Think of Joe Carter, Doug Gilmour or Vince Carter. Despite whatever politics may have been involved during their TO comings-and-goings, these guys were awesome athletes for their respective teams. Period.
The second way is to be truly terrible. I don't mean terrible in an end of the bench kind of way, because of course somebody needs to sit at the end of the bench. I mean terrible in a "they're paying you what?!" kind of way. I speak of names like Andrea Bargnani, Mike Komisarek, or Alex Rios. These guys were bad in a way that made fans angry. And in Toronto, that's a good way (well, not a good way, but definitely a way) to get noticed.
The third way is to become a folk hero.
Now, how does one become a folk hero? Funnily enough, there are three ways to do it.
First, the personality of the player has to come into it. Is the athlete in question a zen mute? A talkative live wire? A prankster? A quipmeister? These things need to be determined.
Second, is there something idiosyncratic or unique about their appearance, history and/or game? Is there a wild haircut? Is he a short in stature high flyer? Does he hail from parts usually unknown in professional sport? Can a nickname get involved?
And finally, the player in question must do something to endear himself to the fanbase. Think of Danny Dichio scoring the first goal for TFC, or Tie Domi's battles with every oversized goon in the NHL. Toronto fans eat this stuff up.
And so, consider Matt Bonner again. He was never a particularly spectacular player while in Toronto. And he didn't do anything to draw the ire of the city's fans. He only even played 160 games for the Raptors. Yet, he became a folk hero of the highest order. He had the off-kilter personality (he joked about riding the TTC to games), he had the unique appearance and game (he was a big white dude with a devastating outside shot who seemed to be eternally smirking at the idea of "Matt Bonner, pro basketball player"). And, boy howdy, did he endear himself to the fanbase.
For 20 seasons, Kevin Garnett has earned his own reputation. He's a guy who barks and makes wild-eyed faces and talks trash to himself (so the refs won't bust him for talking trash to opponents). He's also been known to go after players with less of a chance of fighting back (cue Toronto fans nodding along with Jose Calderon). That's what made this almost-showdown with Bonner so memorable. KG was expecting someone likely to crumple under his intense heat gaze, but instead Bonner stood tall. Watch the clip again, those "Bonner" chants are not an accident.
It's worth noting that by then the Raptors were sinking out of even a modest .500 record that could sneak them into the playoffs. The wilderness beckoned. Fans needed something or someone to cheer for and Bonner, the Red Rocket, was it. A folk hero was born.
Three days later Toronto would trade Vince Carter.