Last night, as part of the Raptors' ongoing 20th Anniversary Nights series, the team honoured perhaps their toughest competitor and one of the more singular personalities in the NBA, Charles Oakley.
Oakley may have been on the downside of his career at the time, but his arrival in Toronto signified a shift in attitude around the city. With Oak in purple teams learned they couldn't get an easy win over the Raptors anymore. He'd make sure things would be hard. Despite having almost no hops, Oak patrolled the paint for the Raptors during two of the franchises most successful season (the rise of Vince Carter also had something to do with that).
On top of that, Oakley was known for his unique way with words. Before tip-off last night after the Oak bobbleheads had been given out, he entertained the press with his musings:
Did you ever imagine having a bobblehead day?
Well I have a head so you never know what could happen.
Can you still play?
I've got shoes on.
Thoughts on modern day game strategy:
Easy game plan. It ain't hard. The game ain't hard. They only have two or three plays, most teams. Trap the best player. That's what I would do, in this day and age. Trap the best player, make somebody else beat you and know your principles as a team on defence.
How does it feel to be honoured by the Raptors?
It's great. From the trade, they've been great. Since I've been traded here. I came here, they always showed me love... Bumps in the road. I got my wheels fixed, got air in them and we're rolling again. It's great to be up here.
When they talk about toughness now, your name comes up:
It's an honour I guess, to talk about me. But most times they only talk about people that's bad. I guess you've got to play with what you have. Know what you have. Everybody comes together. Hey, a player like me these days, I'd foul out in the first quarter so I don't know.
What do you think of the coaching philosophies today - tough love or a hug?
Well, everybody has different philosophies. Everybody wears different size shoes. Some people short, some people tall. You've got to go with your brand, with what got him here, what made him in the starting lineup with the Raptors. My thing was I had attitude every night. No matter who I played, who I went against, what team, you've got to have an attitude. You keep an attitude the whole year from day one, people see you on the court, people will take you serious or whatever, I don't know what is the new age of basketball, it's different than when I played.
Did you enjoy your time in Toronto?
I had a great time... When you're a veteran and you get traded around teams, my thing is when you've got to show the team why they traded for you, why they want you, leadership, bring toughness, bring the guys together. Just play the game. Show them you can still play. You're not washed up even though you're not playing as much as you had earlier in your career.
Who do you like watching today?
Who do I like watching? It's hard to watch. I don't know, it's just, it's a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days.
What would you and Anthony Mason and Patrick Ewing do in the league today?
What would we do? I know we would win a lot of games and you never know what could happen but we would come out and play hard and, the way that they shoot now, we'd have a lot of rebounds every night and we'd have a chance every night to win games.
Still see players like yourself in the league today?
I didn't see none when I was playing like myself. So I'm not going to down these guys. Somebody picked ‘em, so they got ability, I guess.
All-Star next year in Toronto. Are you gonna show up?
Yeah. I showed up this year in New York. But I did a lot of stuff with the Raptors getting ready for next year. Definitely, no doubt, I will be a part of it.
What do you think that's going to do for the Raptors?
I think it's going to be great to have All-Star here. I tell everybody. They're like, ‘Oh, it's in Toronto?' I'm like, yeah, wait till you get there, you're going to be amazed. Clean city, you got just as much as New York going on, less crime so at least you don't have to worry about all that stuff at All-Star weekend. But I think it's going to be great. It's going to be great for the fans here. It's going to be great for Canada, Toronto, period.
On Raptors' decision to honor Vince:
Probably the best player for this franchise. Why not honor him and embrace him? I mean, what did he do wrong? ... Want to get traded 12 o'clock at night, 1 o'clock at night. It's a decision you make, they make. Can't hold grudges in this business ‘cause like it's said, what goes up must come down. You'll see the same person twice sometimes in this business so you gotta deal with it sometimes. Vince is still in the league. They might bring him back next year for glory. He's still got one leg better than some guys' two legs.
No. Miss it? No. I ain't coach but two years. How could I miss that? I got some headaches watching films. But no, it was good experience ‘cause, when you play so long, everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see ‘em first hand. It was kind of bad. It's kind of bad for guys on this level, from what I had to do, and watching them going through things, practice, game planning. Just mindset. The mind is not, you don't have to be strong to play this game no more.
Is it the money that's changed the league?
I don't know what it is. They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the Finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together. So that's one of things I see the weakness is: communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart.