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Culture Watch: The Curious Case of the Nike Monarchs

The Raptors are what they are at this point, with few things left to uncover. But there is still one bigger mystery within the team.

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2017 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The bench mob is getting league-wide attention. The buyout and trade deadlines have long passed. There is no mystery to the Raptors anymore. But there is a mystery bubbling within the organization. It isn’t about roster spots, or contract extensions. It isn’t about any inner-squad drama, or throwing soup. It is about a very specific pair of shoes.

When you think about Nike Monarchs, you probably don’t think about NBA superstars. You might think about your dad, or your grandpa, or your gym teacher who doesn’t appear to have ever played a sport outside a video game.

But someone on the Raptors doesn’t care about this stereotype. Someone on the Raptors was willing to look past the shoe-shaming and embrace instead the cloud-like comfort. This brave soul, however, has yet to reveal their identity. But not to worry, we’re going to get to the (pillow-like) bottom of this conundrum. Through hard-hitting, investigatory journalism, we are going to find the owner of the Monarchs. Buckle up, folks.

The mystery Monarchs made their first appearance in a late night Instagram story posted by Alfonso McKinnie, at 3:45 a.m. on February 2nd. In the video, DeMar DeRozan can be seen holding the shoes with the caption “Drip or Drown” on the team plane, presumably returning from the game in Washington. Judging by DeMar’s face, he doesn’t seem to be on the “drip” side of the shoe debate. But then again, we just watched him baptize the entire city of Detroit and not even crack a smile, so who really knows.

The first Monarch sighting, however, would not be the last. Just this past Sunday, shortly before 5:00 p.m., a rare Instagram story from Fred VanVleet appeared at the top of his followers Instagram feeds. Fans were expecting a photo of his daughter perhaps, or a short clip from shoot-around. What they got instead was shocking, made even more so with the ominous music Fred chose for the clip. The Monarchs were back — supported this time by an appearance from OG Anunoby.

Nike Monarchs are dad shoes. This is not factual, of course, but it is widely believed in the same way that cheerleaders are popular, and guys who play bass don’t get girls. For our first investigation, let’s take a look at who on the team would fit into the “dad shoe” category.

DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, C.J. Miles, Lucas Nogueira, and VanVleet are the fathers on this Raptors team. While DeMar was the first to appear with the Monarchs, he has been wearing Kobe A.Ds all season. Kyle Lowry has always chosen comfort over style, so to think of him owning a pair of Nike Monarchs would not be a stretch. In the game though, he appears to be wearing a pair of his own player edition Adidas Crazy Explosive Low primeknits. With Kyle and DeMar both wearing their own custom shoes, we are probably safe to rule them out.

Lucas Nogueira has six tattoos in his face. He is also a huge Nickelback fan, and plays in a samba band. The enigma that is Bebe could definitely own a pair of Monarchs and it would not be a shock. Miles, meanwhile, is the oldest member of the Bench Mob, and has been dubbed “Bench Dad” by team and fans alike. He is also a new dad. Could C.J. be the Monarch master? Maybe, but it is highly doubtful that his wife would let him leave the house in them, and he did play against the Hawks in what appear to be a pair of Adidas D Rose III’s. VanVleet is the one who posted the second Monarch sighting. He also played in a pair of white shoes that, honestly, kind of looked similar the shoes in question. Guys, I think we’re getting warmer.

Serge Ibaka takes fashion very seriously. He attends New York Fashion Week and is the most stylish player on the team. Father or not, hell will more than likely freeze over before we see him in a pair of Monarchs. But Serge is not the only player in the NBA who uses fashion as a form of self-expression. Russell Westbrook is something of a fashion icon. While his choices may be bold, his confidence in them is the walking embodiment of “owning your look.” So it’s no surprise that if anyone could make Monarchs cool, it would be Westbrook — and that’s exactly what he did. Russ was spotted sitting courtside at an L.A. Sparks game wearing a pair of custom Nike Monarchs. Could Westbrook have unknowingly started a fashion trend for the NBA in his bold decision to embrace the dad shoe? It would not be the first time he brought back an unusual accessory.

Back in February, Russ wore a fanny pack to a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, a fanny pack. The same one your dad wore on a family trip to Disneyland (though his probably wasn’t Balenciaga). But he is hardly the first to accessorize with the practical piece, and definitely not our mystery Monarch owner.

Our very own OG Anunoby is also a proud fanny pack proponent. OG is seldom without his teal Supreme fanny pack, and who could blame him? Do you know how much stuff you can fit in a fanny pack? A lot more than pockets, that’s for sure. This isn’t the rookie’s most peculiar choice of accessory though. On the court, OG is known as much for his short shorts as he is for his play. Off the court, comfort is just as important. OG can almost always be seen sporting only the most sensible of footwear…

Crocs.

Yes, Crocs.

Anunoby may not be a dad, but he has proven that he has the most workable style on the team, and that he isn’t too proud to wear embarrassing footwear. He also appeared in the second video of the Monarchs, which could perhaps be the smoking gun to our investigation. He then appeared again in a second VanVleet Instagram story with an equally, uh, interesting footwear choice.

So is Fred VanVleet, the new dad, our Monarch man? Or is it OG Anunoby, the player who checks all the boxes of a possible Nike Monarch owner? Freddy and OG were both present for the second video, but not the first. Both have made bold footwear decisions on and off the court, and both keep their personal lives fairly private.

We may not know which of the two is the rightful Monarch owner at the moment. We may never know. But there is a bigger storm brewing at the moment. Are Nike Monarchs making a comeback? Do they have a place in the NBA? Will this be just another arena for the Raptors to lead the way?

We’re so close to cracking this case wide open.