Far be it from me to suggest a Raptors player (or any professional basketball player) should not try to secure the bag, as they say. There’s money to be had on the court for every pro baller, and then there is also secondary money to be earned via sponsorship deals and commercials and the like. If you can get it, why not? That’s all fine — really.
But the recent announcement from C.J. Miles, wing sharpshooter for Toronto, that he’ll be entering into some sort of advertising partnership with the inexplicably named internet company Go Daddy is... cause for concern.
There is of course a serious curse to consider here.
Let’s wind back two years. The Raptors are coming off their most successful season to date, a then-record 56-win run that included a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. In that series Toronto even snagged two wins against LeBron James, the team’s arch-nemesis (we respect LeBron, but damn we do not have to like him).
The following year: it began. Jonas Valanciunas was tapped to star in a series of commercials for Go Daddy dot com. The spots would feature the big Lithuanian pretending to be in charge of a company called Itty Bitty Ballers — an artisanal maker of miniature basketball figurines based on the likeness of, you guessed it, Jonas Valanciunas. In truth, the commercials were a hoot, and the series even won plaudits in the 2018 Sponsorship Marketing Awards (which, wow, are a thing). JV got to yuk it up on camera, and even roped in a couple of his then-teammates, Lucas Nogueira (a natural actor) and Patrick Patterson (a try-hard actor), to get in on the fun.
It’s telling however that this series of commercials is no longer on YouTube. And that’s because of what happened next.
While a look at Valanciunas’ numbers from the 2016-17 season don’t show any real difference from his usual output — he averaged 12 points and nine boards in 25.8 minutes per game — his impact on Raptors’ games began to diminish. The Raptors would go on to trade for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, and then all of a sudden, JV couldn’t stay on the floor. He almost never saw a fourth quarter down the stretch in 2017. Come playoff time, he was even removed from the starting lineup in favour of Norman Powell (more on him in a bit). It was as if mysterious forces were at work.
The Raptors would struggle to get out of the first round in the 2017 Playoffs, with Valanciunas averaging a career-low 22 minutes per game in the series. When they finally beat the Bucks in Game 6, JV only got to play 16 minutes. The Raptors were subsequently destroyed by the Cavaliers, with Valanciunas and the rest of the team washing out against LeBron again. All of this after Toronto’s wild 2016 run that featured some of Valanciunas’ best play (an injury would derail that, but still), and the Raptors’ first ever trip to the ECF. It was a letdown year.
And what of JV’s teammates Bebe Nogueira and Patterson? After appearing in that Go Daddy commercial with Jonas, their careers were never the same. Bebe had his moments, but he’d also mostly drift through games, his on-court progress halted by injury or indifference. A career-best 2016-17 for the young Brazilian would lead to a nadir in 2017-18. Bebe is now out of the NBA entirely, having moved on to play basketball in Spain.
Patterson, meanwhile, completely imploded. A knee injury in 2017 had something to do with this, sure, but I wouldn’t overlook what was by now being referred to as the Go Daddy Curse. Valanciunas had faltered, Bebe wasn’t himself, and Patterson went from being a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and ultimate glue guy to a total pariah in Toronto. He’s still off playing for the Thunder in OKC, but he’s also all but invisible now.
This brings us to the curious case of Norman Powell, two-time Raptors playoff hero. The story of Norm in the post-season is well known by now (google Norm Game 5 Bucks or Pacers and you’ll see what I mean). What concerns is what came after — after the 2017 Playoffs, after the Go Daddy campaign featuring Powell, after the Curse struck again.
Now, Powell has every reason to go after the money promised by commercial sponsorship. He’s a second round pick, a guy who almost didn’t make the NBA, a player with little in guaranteed money coming his way. He’s had to work hard for everything, and if a company comes along offering some dollars for a few commercials, well, why not? Might as well secure that aforementioned bag.
Ah, but the cost! Powell’s 2017-18 season, his third in the NBA, was by all accounts an unmitigated disaster. While Go Daddy commercials featuring a piano-playing Norm aired on TV and in the arena, there was Powell at the end of the Raptors bench, struggling. After an early season hip injury, he was taken out of the team’s starting lineup, then given only spot duty in the rotation. Powell was even hit with some “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision” or DNP-CDs, the ultimate indignity. By the end of the 2017-18 season no one was sure what had happened to Norm. His regular season was rough, he was never given the chance to be a playoff hero, and his Raptors were once again swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers. In one sense, it was all so inexplicable.
Yet there is an explanation though: the Go Daddy Curse.
Deep breath. The news today for C.J. Miles could be grim. He’s had a good run in the NBA, playing his way through 13 seasons for a handful of teams. More than that though, Miles has gone from being a relatively obscure player to one of the more feared shooters in the league. He’s put in 41 percent of his three-point attempts throughout his entire career, and the number of those shots has only gone up for him. This year, the Raptors are counting on him, along with newcomer Danny Green, to fill their wing position and to fill the bucket from beyond the arc. Up to this point, we’ve had no reason to doubt Miles’ ability to do just that.
But we also didn’t have to consider the dang Go Daddy Curse. So, C.J., if you’re reading this, good luck out there, stay sharp, and maybe you can be the one to buck the trend and break this hex that has bedevilled the Raptors and Toronto alike these past two seasons.