Prior to the Raptors’ championship run in 2019, led by the immortal Kawhi Leonard, Toronto had something of a small forward problem. (This is not to be confused with their later brief power forward problem.) In 2004, after the team was forced to trade Vince Carter, their first mega star, the Raptors would spend the next decade and then some trying to fill that void.
If this sounds hard to believe, just look through Toronto’s opening night small forward starters. This august list of players includes: Joey Graham in 2005, Morris Peterson in 2006, Jason Kapono in 2007 (what?), Hedo Turkoglu in 2009, Linas Kleiza in 2010, Rasual Butler (RIP) in 2011, Landry Fields in 2012, Rudy Gay in 2013, Terrence Ross in 2014, DeMarre Carroll in 2015 and 2016 (finally, consecutive years!), Norman Powell in 2017, Leonard in 2018 (quite memorably), and OG Anunoby in 2019.
Now, the astute among you may have noticed that I left out 2008. That was the season when then-28-year-old Jamario Moon stepped in, playing in just his second season in Toronto and the NBA. After the Raptors realized quickly the prior year that Kapono wasn’t going to cut it as the team’s small forward — go figure — it was the unknown Moon who claimed the spot. It was Moon who started 75 games in his rookie season, and Moon who would get the chance to put his stamp on the Raptors right from the jump in 2008.
And so, Moon gave it his best shot.
His Raptors Run
In truth, Moon’s run in Toronto, as with many players on the Raptors in those Bryan Colangelo-led years, was brief. He played two full season on the Raptors, starting 135 out of the 158 games in which he appeared. Then, in 2009, after another 54 games with the Raptors (including 39 starts), Moon was traded at the deadline — along with Jermaine O’Neal and the first round pick that would become Jonas Valanciunas (but was first traded back to Toronto as part of the Chris Bosh sign-and-trade) — to the Heat for Shawn Marion.
This should have been a boon for the Raptors — Marion was still decent, O’Neal was a corpse — but Colangelo quickly flipped the playeer they called The Matrix for the aforementioned Hedo that offseason in a massive four-team deal, restarting their search for a steady small forward once again after it became immediately apparent that Turkoglu, for lack of a more polite word, sucked.
Still, Jamario! Blessed with a jumping ability that allowed him to leap over his namesake, Moon quickly became something of a fan favourite in Toronto. It also didn’t hurt that in his rookie year, he posted 8.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and a reasonable 32 percent from three. Plus, there were the dunks. Moon’s late appearance in the NBA, at 27, made sense when you looked at his actual shooting ability, his defensive acumen, his awareness, and other factors. But you could not say that Moon couldn’t dunk. (We’ll get to some highlights in a minute.)
Despite appearing in the NBA as if from nowhere — Alabama-born and undrafted out of Meridian Community College — Moon would eventually parlay his dunking ability into an appearance in the 2008 dunk contest at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. He’d compete against returning champ Gerald Green, future Raptors small forward Gay, and the eventual winner (and playoff obstacle that year) Dwight Howard. (Meanwhile, the Raptors’ previous start small forward Kapono would go on to win the three-point shooting contest.)
It was, in a sense, the biggest moment in Moon’s career. He’d go on to put up one good playoff performance (an 11-10-4 double-double) in Toronto’s lone win over the Magic in the 2008 playoffs. And then he and the Raptors would part ways — and decline. Moon would bounce around from Miami to Cleveland to the L.A. Clippers and to Charlotte before exiting the league in 2012 at the age of 31. The Raptors would crater (again) at 22-60 in 2010-11. The difference of course is that the team would eventually bounce back.
Nevertheless, Jamario’s legacy is secure after his appearance in that dunk contest. And it feels only fitting that as the sun set on his career, Moon would be replaced in said contest by a different Raptor in 2010: DeMar DeRozan.
The Wikipedia Fun-Fact Deep-Dive
In almost every way, Moon’s struggle to reach the NBA is typical of many other journeymen across the globe. He appeared on a Summer League team early on (in 2001 for the Bucks), then navigated the warrens of the then-D-League while making a few more trips to Las Vegas to try and catch the eye of an NBA team. Moon played for both the Lakers and Jazz in the 2002 Summer League, but it was for naught.
For the next five years before arriving in Toronto, Moon would hack his way through the World Basketball Association (WBA) — winning a championship with the Rome Gladiators (of Georgia) — competing in the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (LNBP), and making a few more stops in the D-League. Again, this is not atypical. Some well-known NBA players (and former Raptors) have roamed quite far in their pro careers before (and after) making meaningful stops in Toronto.
So how is Moon different? He is one of the few (or maybe the only) recent NBA players to come up and play for the Harlem Globetrotters. And while this part is hard to confirm, I think it’s fair to say Moon may be the only NBA player of recent memory who, prior to joining the league, saw his biggest payday come while playing for the Globetrotters. According to this Globe and Mail piece from Michael Grange — a worthwhile profile — Moon made $60,000 for 200 nights with the team. A far cry from the eventual near-$7 million he would go on to make after four years (and change) in the NBA.
At 1.1 million views, it’s clear Moon’s top 10 dunks of all time are popular. And I think it’s fair to say, despite his humble beginnings, he is now known far and wide as one of the better above-the-rim players of recent memory.
Funnily enough though, the most-watched highligh of Jamario’s career? This random rebound which, well, you’ll just have to watch it:
The only thing I can compare this moment to is the first reveal of the Transported Man, the main magic trick from the 2006 Christopher Nolan film The Prestige. The scene in question shows actor Hugh Jackman watching as Christian Bale bounces a ball on one side of the stage before retreating through a door, closing it, and a split second later appear on the other side of the stage through a different door to catch the bouncing ball. It happens so fast the audience doesn’t even realize what they’ve seen.
And that is what Jamario is doing in the above clip. Superhuman, but presented in such a way so as to seem normal.
Where Are They Now?
Like many fun but maybe not serious (or viable) NBA players, Moon has gone on to find success in the one major league that will have him (for the right price): the BIG3. After being drafted into the league in 2019 with the 10th overall pick — behind notable players Royce White (1st), Larry Sanders (3rd), and Greg Oden (7th) — Moon spent time playing with the Three Headed Monsters, the Ghost Ballers, and the Triplets, winners of the 2019 BIG3 championship.
Sadly, despite confirming he would be back to defend his BIG3 title, Moon and the Triplets’ (and the entire BIG3’s) return to the court has been delayed thanks to the coronavirus. For Jamario, it’s just one more unlikely turn of events in a career that has come to be defined by them.