DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry snuck into the Biosteel Centre in the early hours one recent morning, and shot hoops on the gleaming new hardcourt. The Toronto Raptors co-captains couldn't wait to check out their new digs.
The Raptors pulled the curtains back on their new $38 million practice facility on Wednesday, a state-of-the-art building just west of BMO Field and the culmination of a project some eight years in the making.
"It's somewhere they can call home," said Raptors president and GM Masai Ujiri. "For players to find a place to work, and call their own is such a big thing I think."
The two-storey, 68,000-square foot facility features two full size courts, plush locker-rooms with individual TV monitors above each locker, a barber shop, a large fitness and weight room, a medical and rehabilitation area that includes an underwater treadmill, and a full service kitchen and dining room. The large upstairs patio that runs nearly the length of the building overlooks Lake Ontario.
The "war room" — where roster decisions are made on NBA draft night and during free agency — looks like something out of the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report." The room has interactive screens on the curved wall and on the table top, allowing immediate access to information such as player, team and league stats, and trade simulation.
"There's a lot of thinking that goes on in there, a lot of debating, a lot of questioning, a lot of research, and when you do all these things, you want all the right information in front of you all at once," Ujiri said. "When we have these digital machines, and screens on our table, it puts all this information right in front of us to make important decisions in our organization."
"I don't even have one of those over at City Hall, and I probably have more use for it on a day to day basis than a basketball team," Toronto Mayor John Tory joked.
"It's so spectacular, it's got everything in it our team needs to be a championship team," he added.
The Raptors' practice facility had been housed at the Air Canada Centre, with a single practice court and tiny weight room an elevator ride up several floors from the locker-room. Ujiri's office was in an adjacent building.
The old war room had a white board and magnets.
Ujiri said when he was hired by former GM Bryan Colangelo in 2007, he was immediately told his first project was to find a practice facility. Raptors staff looked at about 30 similar facilities around the world, Ujiri said, including the $68-million University of Oregon football facility and Manchester City's sprawling soccer grounds.
"To see it come together now is incredible for us, it's been a long time coming, and so much work behind it. For it to actually be standing now together, you guys cannot even imagine how we feel," Ujiri said. "It's very very fulfilling, and you feel proud."
Ujiri said the biggest benefit of the facility might be that it fits with the "culture we set of everybody being together. In an environment like that, it's conducive for people to work together, and that helps with the performance on the court."
It's also a selling point for potential players.
"It's when you don't have it, that it's a question," Ujiri said. "When you don't have it, when (players) come to visit, the question comes up: Where's your practice facility? Now no-one is going to ask the question, they'll know 'You know what, that's one thing they have, and it's great, it's new.' It's a huge advantage."
Toronto FC's practice facility north of the city, by comparison, cost $20 million.