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I wasn’t quite sure what to think the first time I watched the video that ran before the Raptors game against the Boston Celtics last Friday. So, as I am wont to do, I decided to watch it approximately 25 times with a note-pad — and a gaping 1,800-word hole inside my chest:
00:00-0:17 - We get the famous audio from the Kawhi Leonard press-conference where Masai pushes back hard against the whole line of thinking that trading for Kawhi “means” anything beyond getting a good basketball player. A good start.
0:18-0:33: Moody shots of Kawhi, uh, having his media day pictures taken? Jogging on to the court? Um, is this a bit weird to anyone else?
(Although, his pounding of the chest at the 0:33 mark shows that in addition to having a sixth sense as to where his opponent is going to try to go with the ball, Kawhi also instinctively knows when the drop of any song is about to hit. Which is, to be fair, pretty impressive.)
0:34: I’m not quite sure what qualifies Saukrates (from Ottawa) to be the narrator of this video. He has done a couple of Blue Jay videos, but surely, if Drizzy is anywhere near a mic, he’s got to be the call here, right? Failing that, tell me you wouldn’t have loved to hear Kardinal’s lilt through this whole thing?
(Fun bonus note: after googling ‘Canadian Rappers’ I wasted the better part of an hour watching a 40-year old Madchild in some painful battle-rap videos with a guy who looked the bearded proprietor of a Vancouver-Island ice-creamery, and realized that Tom Green is somehow listed before King Lou! Look, we all love Organized Rhyme, and did indeed Check the O.R., but Internet, get your shit together!)
0:44-0:48: A passive aggressive series of digs against Vince, T-Mac, and Chris Bosh. Lame.
0:52-0:54: The low-key flambe continues with more shots of McGrady, Carter, Bosh, Rafael Araujo (?), Joey Graham (???), Andrea Bargnani (OK, I get that one), Aaron and Eric Williams (seriously, it’s not like they called up Rob Babcock and said “Rob, if you can get two limited offensive big-men, we think we see big things”), and... Landry Fields? (Wait, we’re gonna shit on the handsome Steve Sax of basketball now? What the hell is going on?).
If you wanted to have a real list of great Raptors villains, the video should have featured Allan ‘Shotgun’ Slaight, B.J. Armstrong (the original “I don’t wanna go to Canada” guy), and Chris Childs. (It was a three point game! Dell Curry was so on fucking fire he would have hit the shot from Tiger Stadium! I am still a little too emotionally connected to the results of that Detroit series.)
0:58: Oh. I see what you did there.
0:59-1:10: This is more or less a montage of Kawhi playing meaningless preseason basketball against over-matched bench units. Cool, but nothing too impressive.
Checks notes: the Cleveland game was the regular season opener?
Shrugs. I stand by my original comments.
1:11-1:14: Wait? The Raptors have other players? Thank goodness. I was starting to worry that this Kawhi fellow might have to dispel Toronto’s deep and enduring sense of insecurity all by himself. I mean, I know the guy understands everything there is about being defensive, but still.
1:15-1:19: Oh, my mistake. That was just a teammate hors d’oeurve before we went back to the main Kawhi course. (Seriously, you know how you go and convince everyone they should be confident in who they are? Feature that guy whose spent a total of 37 minutes being like them.)
1:20-1:27: OK, I actually like this part. A mix of Leonard and his teammates, an obvious but effective dunk-on-the-beat moment, and a great “unknown unknowns” kinda idea in: “coming this far to come further.” Well done.
1:28-1:32: A fairly non-descript series of head-shots, but is it just me or does Jonas Valanciunas look a little like Conor McGregor in his? (Please let this mean he’s going to bust out a kimora on Aaron Baynes in the playoffs.)
1:34: Classic Lowry smirk. Full points.
1:36-1:40: Too soon, Saukrates. Too soon. (and, um, was the risk letting Fred VanVleet shoot? That seems mean.)
1:41-1:44: I, uh. Really? We needed to see them argue here? Why not just have the video of Masai barrelling into the locker room after LeBron’s full-court dagger after Game 3. I think some feelings got hurt there.
1:46-1:53: Another good section. It’s true, you don’t gain anything great without bruising egos. I’ll admit, I initially reacted to all the off-season moves with too much Canadian timidity. Masai wants to win, and he’s going to take big swings to try to do it. We should thank our lucky stars we have a person up top who sees the potential of this team and market.
(It still hurt to see DeMar tho.)
1:54-2:20: A solid finishing kick. Great shots of the team in it’s entirety. An unabashed statement of organizational intent — to be the best, another well placed poke at Raptors fans’ (lessening, but still there) penchant to look for the roof to cave in at any given moment, and then finally, bringing it back into the now — by reminding us the first order of business is to beat the Celtics.
2:21-2:32: A great lyrical finishing flourish from Ruelle — it is a wild game of survival in the playoffs, and then a nice decision to ratchet down all the bluster by ending the video with silent imagery.
But is it any good?
On one hand, you had to admire the organization for so strongly planting their flag. “Toronto!”, it said, loud and clear. “Stop your pathetic hand-wringing. Stop giving a shit if someone else likes you. If someone else respects you. You’re the best city in the NBA, and if other people can’t see it, to paraphrase Masai: fuck them.
It was bold. It pulled no punches. It was passionate.
It was, in fact, the sort of thing that only someone not from Toronto could have come up with.
What was all too “Toronto” (and by that I mean parochial), was the need to bury the previous “ones”. The 1,000 decibel side-eyes at Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh. It was fifteen seconds that served to almost completely undo all the likable swagger that surrounded it.
Why pile on those players now? Hell, why pile on them at all? Carter and Bosh signed second contracts here, and T-Mac, well, he left in the middle of an era where every super-star worth the team felt they had to have their own team. Besides, he’s admitted it was a mistake several times.
And sure, Carter left in ugly circumstances. He knows it. We know it. But the way Vince left, pouting, maybe even openly throwing games, said more about who he was then, then it said about us. He knows it. We know it.
And I agree, the level of hand-wringing and worrying over whether Kawhi will stay or go is unbecoming of a team and city the quality of Toronto. If the video helps turn down the volume of the “long time listener, first time caller” segment of the fan-base, I’m happy.
But overall, that part said way too much about us.
Enough of the living in the sad, sad past, B.S. The greatest single lie this franchise and fan base tells itself is the notion that the Raptors were some sort of perpetual sad-sack franchise.
Yes, the Raps haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory until this recent stretch, but let’s take a deep breath. The Isiah Thomas-era was exciting — especially for an expansion franchise. (Make jokes about them beating the Bulls being a highlight, it was a highlight. The GREATEST TEAM IN NBA HISTORY wanted that game, the Raps somehow took it.)
The Glen Grunwald years saw a legitimately good basketball team built, and then torpedoed by Vince. That team was good enough to be a finalist.
Rob Babcock was over-matched, but Bryan Colangelo quickly built an out-of-nowhere interesting team, only to see a freak injury (Jorge Garbajosa), and the wrong year to win the draft lottery (Bargnani) end it before it could truly take flight.
The point being, the Raptors’ history hasn’t been one long death-march to Hell (except 2002-2006 — those years were in fact, awful).
Let’s take a step back. It took the Raptors five seasons to make the playoffs for the first time. In 23 seasons previous to this one, they’ve reached the post-season ten times, and the Conference Finals once.
Let’s compare them to recent expansion teams:
Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (23 seasons): Nine seasons to make playoffs, 10 total playoff appearances, 1 Conference Finals.
Minnesota Timberwolves (29 seasons): Eight seasons to make the dance, 9 total appearances, 1 Conference Finals.
Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets (14 seasons): Six years to make it, 3 total appearances, 0 Conference finals.
Orlando Magic (29 Seasons): Five years to make it, 14 total appearance, 3 Conference Finals appearances, which led to 2 Finals appearances.
Miami Heat (30 Seasons): Five years to make it, 20 total appearances(!), 7 Conference Finals, including 5 Finals and 3 Titles.
So the Raps got their as quickly as anyone in the modern expansion era, and while their rate of getting to the playoffs (43%) is on the lower end, it’s not dramatically so compared to everyone but Miami (who are legitimately an amazing NBA organization).
Add it up, and you have, perhaps a slightly disappointing NBA franchise. But not an awful one. Not an embarrassing one. Not one that justifies a video that takes shots at three of the most talented guys to ever put on the jersey (and bully-like ones on guys like Hoffa and Fields.)
Maybe it’s the Maple Leaf effect — after so many lean years by the Pucks, Toronto decided it was a shitty sports town, and therefore any team that had any stretch of poor play was somehow just as hopeless as the Buds. Except of course the Leafs weren’t even hopeless. They had several stretches of interesting, or out-right good teams every decade (except for the 80’s. The 80’s were in fact, awful).
Long story short, I like what the video wanted to say. I just didn’t love how it tried to say it.
Did Carter, Bosh or T-Mac get us the ultimate prize? No, but they gave us some damn fine memories. Let’s respect that. Let’s respect our city, and the fact it’s clear why anyone could want to live here. Let’s respect ourselves.
Stop cutting the legs out from underneath your past, Toronto. Those are the legs you’re standing on now, to see that brighter future.