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.
January 28, 2010: The Toronto Raptors play the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Toronto wins 106-104.
Five years later we can agree that the 2009-2010 Toronto Raptors season was weird.
Don't believe me? That year's team vacillated between being six games under .500 to seven games over .500 before settling for a 40-42 season and missing the playoffs. They were fifth in offensive rating, but dead last on defense. The roster included a grab bag of players: Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, the immortal Andrea Bargnani and a rookie DeMar DeRozan, right along to names like Marco Belinelli, Reggie Evans, and Jarrett Jack. (Pops Mensah-Bonsu was also there to ride the pine.)
The story of that Raptors' season was of the biggest name then-GM Bryan Colangelo managed to bring in. He was drafted out of Turkey as Hidayet Turkoglu, a 6'10'' big man with play-making and shooting skills to go along with an unknown ceiling. But, after ten years in the league, everyone knew him by one name: Hedo.
By January, things for Toronto were on the upswing. The team was working on an eventual five-game win streak and had dug themselves out of an aforementioned hole in the early season. They went into New York and their big name free agent Hedo played a monster game: 26 points, 11 rebounds, 8-for-16 shooting, 3-for-8 from 3, 7-for-9 from the free throw line, two assists, two steals, a block and only one turnover in 34 minutes. This was what around $10 million a season got you. It may have been a weird team, but it was a good weird at the time.
After the comeback win (against a Knicks team that was 18-26 at the time, but never mind that), Hedo gave us his most indelible moment, an interview with Jack Armstrong that came to define his protracted Toronto career.
It was... "Ball":
Fortunately, afterwards Hedo and Jack worked it out. As Armstrong told the National Post recently:
Ah, one of the funnier moments in my career. I put a microphone in Hedo Turkoglu's face after a game at Madison Square Garden, and he was really ticked off about his role at the time with the Raptors, and I happened to be caught in the middle of that. It was one of those ‘huminah, huminah, huminah' moments. You're on live TV and everyone had a lot of laughs with it. And I was the punch line. Hedo, he apologized to me the next day. And every time we see each other, we have a good chat and a good laugh about it.
While the strangeness of Hedo's interview can be somewhat chalked up to a language barrier, not so with Ke$ha. Hence, questions.
Why was Ke$ha the owner of the biggest song in North America? Why is her spelling so deliberately terrible? Why do we allow songs such as these to tear apart the very fabric of our culture? Why do--
Sorry, got a little carried away there.
Both Hedo and our #1 movie, Avatar, can claim a lot of money to their name. Both Hedo and Avatar creator James Cameron were definitely past their prime when they made those dollars. Both Hedo and Avatar felt monumental at the time of their arrival into the culture (locally and globally, respectively).
And now? A mention of Hedo and Avatar is treated only with a shrug. How times change.
After spurning the Portland Trailblazers in the off-season, Hedo signed with Toronto amid much fanfare. This was the guy who had ventured all the way to the NBA Finals the year before with the Orlando Magic. He would help bring the random parts of this Raptors squad together. He would help bring them to the promised land, or failing that, at least the second round.
Instead, Hedo would go on to play in 74 games for Toronto and then, almost a year to the day of his signing, he would be traded for Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones. So much for the promised land.
The reason, of course, for all that fanfare was simple: Toronto had won in free agency. Heading into the summer of 2009, the name near the top of everyone's free agent list was Hedo Turkoglu. He had exploded in 2007-08, averaging almost 20 points a game to go with 5.7 rebounds and five assists. He could shoot the three, and handle the rock. He was the guy that many teams were after.
And the Raptors got him.
Now, in retrospect, should the Raptors and Colangelo have noticed that Hedo's numbers had slipped from that peak 2007-08 season? Should they have noticed that Hedo, never one for a strict health regimen, was in his 30th year? That he was leaving an Orlando team specifically designed to complement his talents? Perhaps.
Still, for the Toronto Raptors, a team that basically never gets thought of as a big player in the free agency market, the signing still feels worth it. Yes, Hedo never amounted to anything but flashes of talent and eventual spare parts. And yes, the following year would lead to a full-scale team implosion. We know all of this now.
But at least in that one year Raptors fans could say their team had done one thing and done it well: