It's easy to forget sometimes that the Raptors have only been around for 20 years. Sometimes it feels like it's been a lot longer. While some recent NBA expansion teams have been models of consistency (the Mavericks and Heat, for example), Toronto's entry into the league has been marked by all kinds of wild ups and downs. In his new book, "100 Things Raptors Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," author Dave Mendonca attempts to catalogue all of these happenings. It's arguably an impossible feat, but within those 100 things, Mendonca does his best to collect all of the highest (and lowest) moments.
"100 Things Raptors Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" (which I'll shorten to 100 Things, because I'm not a masochist), is an even-handed and cheery summary of the past 20 years for Canada's lone NBA team. Organized as one large list, Mendonca jumps from moment to moment and player to player, in an attempt to highlight all of the most significant historical times in Raptors history. Some sections subtly connect to others but for the most part, Mendonca presents the facts in a free-wheeling trip down memory lane.
Since the book is not organized in straight up chronological order, it actually works best as a handy reference. Need to know what the deal is with Charles Oakley? There's a section for that. How about the story on all of the franchise's coaches? Just head over to the right page. Want an explanation as to what the deal was with Rob Babcock? It's there too (though really, he is impossible to explain). Most sections in the book run two to three pages and provide an easy reading summary on the who, what and when of a given situation. Going through the book, even I learned some new things. (e.g. I forgot that the Bosh-to-Miami trade actually reacquired the no. 5 pick, which had been traded away for Shawn Marion, and would eventually become Jonas Valanciunas.) The downside to 100 Things' organization however is that reading it straight through ends up becoming somewhat repetitive. You can read about Vince Carter in one section, then in another, and then another--each provides a different context, sure, but it's still a lot of Vince Carter. (Also, eek, there's a couple sections about "Carlos" Villenueva.)
The strength of 100 Things is when it goes a little deeper into the team's history and early years. With the internet (and sites like Basketball Reference), it's easy for anyone to look up what Alvin Williams' career numbers were or the block totals for Yogi Stewart, but to learn about, for example, the power struggle between Allan Slaight, John Bitove and Isiah Thomas? That's good stuff. Likewise, it was fun to read about some of the obscure players who played for the Raptors over the years, and some of the bizarre asides Mendonca includes. (An example: Tracy Murray recounting a tail of Acie Earl farting everyone off the team bus.) When the book goes beyond numbers, it's an honest-to-goodness historical document. With the amount of sports history that is easily searchable these days, 100 Things succeeds by collecting some fun, interesting facts from that late 90s era when we were all just slightly less informed.
Ultimately, many of us (us meaning readers of this site and/or long-time Raptor fans) will already be familiar with a lot of what Mendonca writes about in 100 Things. We remember Andrea Bargnani, and the Carter years, and Kevin O'Neill screaming his head off. We've been to Maple Leaf Square or watched a game in "Jurassic Park." But if you're looking to new Raptors fans, or want to get your kid interested in Toronto basketball, then this book is easy to recommend. Mendonca presents everything in a clean, efficient writing style, he's easy on the snark, and he covers all of the main Raptors memories from A(ndrea) to Z(an).
Anyone else out there planning on giving "100 Things Raptors Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" by Dave Mendonca a ready? Let's hear it.