Last week, it was revealed that Sean Penn held a secret interview with Mexican drug lord and mass murderer El Chapo. The ensuing article was then written by Penn and published in Rolling Stone, in a self-absorbed writing style that brought comic relief to writers everywhere. Our own John Gaudes took it seriously though, and decided to write the Toronto Raptors mid-season review in an identical style. Enjoy.
It’s January 11, 2016. My head is swimming, MacBook underneath my fingertips, a deep darkness rolling in from outside that my apartment negotiates with. Stand-up lamps, flashing screens, an LED image of John Calipari swinging his arm, propelling a team forward in a land distant from my own. At 25 years old, I negotiate within the light as my apartment negotiates against the darkness. Tasked with the idyllic performance of a mid-season review of the basketball team I call mine, my own, which of course it is not, I cannot help but look around me and wonder how my life would change outside of the light. It is a frigid day in Winnipeg. The temperature has fallen so the crunch and snap of snow and air take handle of audible sensory experiences outside of my window. Inside that window it is quiet, an oasis of silence, and light, and temperate creation within a freezing, distant world.
The demonstration of silence comes at the cost of the basketball game on my television. Though those in white pretend to represent all in my country, I have no foibles that demand I idolize the Kentucky Wildcats. What they ask of me: you see, Jamal Murray is a touted prospect and a Canadian. The parched nature of a country where basketball grows as a flower would in the frigid Manitoba air dictate that I embrace the small blooms as they come along. I refuse. I am a business man, a rebel, a pragmatic thinker. I do not bend to the whim of a nationalized pride in individuals, long before they turn into models of success. I do, however, hold that sense of self aside when I concern myself with the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors.
These Toronto Raptors are 24-15 today, a set of five numerical and symbolic characters that indicate on some level that the basketball team has partaken in a total of 39 games (24+15), with 24 of those constituting a win, a victory, an emotional collapse of their losing opponent. Paradoxically, the higher number begins that series of characters, the conclusion can be settled upon without a haze or care of connotation. This is a winning team.
Flash frame: why is this a paradox? It’s paradoxical because in basketball, there are only winners and there only losers. That label of two numerical figures does not open the potential gates of equivalency. There is no opportunity to look your foe in the eye and tell him "we are equals". As the referee blows his whistle and tosses the orange sphere high towards the arms of God and those who have died before us, the ten men who await its fall know that two to three hours from that very moment, there will only be a winner and only be a loser. It is a paradox because in life there is grey area. In basketball, there is not.
Grey area has come to define the career of DeMar DeRozan. I have not met DeRozan, and do not pretend to have anything in common with a man two years my senior from a city thousands of miles from my home. I have long studied this man, though, from a distance, with a demonstrable level of appreciation for his craft. It is another paradox that I see myself in a man who is nothing like me. I see the drive to improve, both in my craft and in life itself. DeRozan and Gaudes are both creations of God and as such should always have a drive of improvement.
But can we return to that concept of grey area? DeRozan has made his career of shooting in the grey areas of the basketball floor. Those who study the game as I have understand that there is no love to be drawn from shots from a distance, shots that constitute the same number of points as a shot from close.
Sixteen feet to 22 feet away from that floating orange target, DeRozan has performed woefully but hoped strongly in the past. This year, he has become wiser to his struggles. He has turned down the desire to shoot the basketball from distances that have proven him weak in the past. He is instead attacking that orange target with all his might, into the hands of grunting, powerful men standing seven feet and taller, limbs long, bending at joints held together with the inward force of rippling muscles. David driving into Goliath, he lifts off, paradoxically contorting his body away from and into the men he challenges. They create contact in the air, an athletic ballet, and our hero is given two free shots.
This growth in wisdom for DeMar DeRozan, along with the continued excellence of his partner and brother Kyle Lowry, fresh with the loss of mass that only pilates can provide, has been the most notable fuel for a war Jeep that has found a flat road to drive on after two months in the mountains. Thirty-nine games into their season, this fuel is keeping forward progression, but it is not the only factor in doing so.
As a man who is not unbeknownst to travel, I have seen many places and sights that the common man may not be privy to. Do I think that makes me a better person? No clue! But it does not make me a paradox – in my adventures, my sense of internal strife comes to peace. I am whole.
During one of these adventures, I came across a tortoise. Locked behind a wall of glass in Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, this tortoise did not handle both aspects of a fight-or-flight mentality. In fact, when threatened, it turned in on itself, hiding within its impenetrable, perfect, steely shell. The Toronto Raptors, under the wisdom of Andy Greer and Dwane Casey, have found a shell of their own, embracing a conservative defensive strategy that would make both Ted Cruz and the Polish blush with envy.
In this mentality, the Toronto Raptors make less mistakes. They are able to ruthlessly protect James Naismith’s creation with the protective arms of Bismack Biyombo from Africa and Jonas Valanciunas from Lithuania. These men come from lands far different from each other, but both are going to battle as one, a force showing that the democracy of man is always preferable to the individuality of the same.
Individuality? That concept could also describe the Toronto Raptors’ off-season acquisition. Last spring, DeMarre Carroll took a pilgrimage to the plainland of Cleveland, Ohio, where he expressed his individuality in a war with the world’s greatest in his craft, one LeBron James. Though a valiant battle of wit and strength occurred, Carroll fell on one knee early in the fight. He has since migrated north, as Casey expressed the ‘man crush’, a love affair hallowed in testosterone and the sweat of hard work. While he has not yet achieved full health, Carroll’s mind has expressed its influence on the team when his body could not. I discussed this with him at length over the summer.
There’s a remarkable stat about you that really stands out to me – your shot chart last year had only five or six "cool areas", spots on the floor where you don’t shoot a good percentage, but you only took 25 shots total from those areas over the entire season. That’s an incredible amount of discipline and a credit to Coach Bud’s system. Are you looking to be a leader in bringing that discipline to your new team?
Yeah, most definitely. The biggest thing I'm going to try to bring to Toronto is having a team that doesn't care who gets the glory. You have so many guys on a team who want the glory and, I think, if we win games and we all have the same common goal and don’t have no egos, you’re going to have your glory.
That’s what I learned with the Hawks. We didn't care who scored the most points, we didn't care who had the most rebounds, we just cared about winning the game. Some nights it might not be your night but you have to look at the person in the mirror and just say to yourself it’s not your night. I think, just taking ownership with yourself - that’s what I’m going to try to bring, bring that bond that we don’t have to put it all on one person’s shoulders.
There are times where Kyle might try to put it all on his shoulders and DeMar might try to put it all on his shoulders and I think we’re just going to try to do it as a team and when you can do it as a team, I think the sky’s the limit for us.
Since that phone call with DeMarre Carroll months ago, the Raptors have improved as he prophesied. The team scores as it needs to, it defends when it wants to. It performs both tasks necessary to winning when stakes are heightened, when the snow outside my window that has hardened today melts away completely. There is promise here. They have wins against Oklahoma City, Cleveland, San Antonio, Miami, Dallas, Washington thrice. Though talent may lack, the heart is strong with these Toronto Raptors. My foible is not to stand with idealized notions, but I cannot help but stand with a team who has marked improvement, as a bear would deep within the British Columbian forests.
The Toronto Raptors? I see a bright future ahead for the team and its fans.