So here we go again.
While it won't garner anywhere close to the amount of U.S. media attention that LeBron James' return to Cleveland received in November, the Raptors will get a little more play than usual from the Canadian outlets this week as Chris Bosh and the Heat make tracks to Toronto Wednesday night.
Raptor fans are used to these returns by now - previously in the form of Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter. And it's worth mentioning that the Raps lost all three of those games - by an average of almost of 13 points - despite a raucous, anti-insert-name-here-crowd.
But I'm not here to break down how the Heat will probably beat Toronto. I'm just here to rebut some of the same old stereotypes and half-truths.
Toronto hater myth
A friend and I were talking about DeMar DeRozan's progress several weeks back. He summarized by saying, "well, when he's a free agent, we'll lose him too." It was an over-generalized, melodramatic and defeatist comment, but it got me thinking again about this erroneous belief that nobody in the NBA wants to play in Toronto.
In the summer of 2001, I was in the locker-room before Vince Carter's inaugural charity basketball game (the best edition of the event, and not something Chris Bosh ever attempted to stage in his years in The Big Smoke), I asked Ray Allen something to the effect of if NBA players frowned at the idea of playing in Toronto. He responded with borderline derision, retorting "Who says they don't want to play here?"
I realized at that moment I couldn't say names like Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady or even Steve Francis, because those examples were situational or hypothetical, respectively.
The departures of Stoudamire, and, later Carter, had less to do with players abandoning the city and more to do with personal issues (right or wrong) with the basketball organization. It's also worth noting Stoudamire and McGrady were still quite young when they left - and both have said in recent years they at least partly wish they stayed.
Most people have forgotten Carter signed a seven-year contract extension with the Raptors in 2001 (when all the "experts" said he wouldn't.) If he later chose to phone in his career because he feared bodily contact, it had nothing to do with Toronto as a city. He called it quits on the team and his own abilities, not the Greater Toronto Area. He asked for a trade, in part, because he objected to the Raptors hiring Rob Babcock as GM. Since then, Carter has mostly been a shell of his 1999-2001 self, a player who was once crowned 'the next one' but wanted nothing to do with that title.
With Bosh on the other hand, the Raptors got a guy with a great number two man's game but an apparent belief he deserved to be more of a crossover star than his game entitled. A YouTube hit and a guest spot with the guy who stabbed Conan O'Brien in the back can do that to some people. (Hey Chris: When Carter played in Canada, he was on U.S. Gatorade commercials. That's because he was a freak athlete, unlike you, and your much-less marketable skills).
Betrayed fan base
The point I'm trying to make is for all the harping about "players not wanting to play in Toronto," it's really only Bosh who walked out the door doing anything that could be considered a knock on the city. Whether it was his immature tweets or "bad cable" comments, he didn't endear himself to the fan base he earlier claimed to love.
And it played right into the Canadian inferiority complex. A week before Bosh signed in Miami, the online version of a popular Toronto lifestyle magazine featured the sentence "please don't break our heart" in reference to Bosh. I felt like punching my computer screen in its non-existent face. In my opinion, Bosh had done nothing in his seven years in Toronto to warrant "falling in love" with him, yet here was a media outlet not known for sports coverage making a syrupy plea.
I could see then what would transpire next. Bosh would leave, and the casual fans who read that periodical - alongside the country's basketball-haters - would take the opportunity to once again idiotically toll the death knell for the NBA in Toronto. And that's more or less what happened, with the added bonus of Bosh complaining about not being on American TV enough up here.
But let's put things in perspective again.
Bosh played in Toronto seven years, Carter six and a half. In NBA terms, outside of Hall of Fame names, that's about standard tenure with a team. Stoudamire and Carter never again matched their output here. McGrady put up great numbers, but only sniffed the second round of the playoffs - injured and on the bench.
There are of course obstacles to getting certain players in Toronto. I've known Americans have who lived here - and they did have concerns, from serious realities about how the health care system applies to them if they're expecting a child, to frivolous-yet-annoying factors like not getting ESPN. Antonio Davis worried about his kids learning the metric system (silly yes, but a parent's choice).
However, do people really believe that a young, male, NBA player would prefer playing in Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Portland, Indianapolis or a laundry list of NBA cities over Toronto from simply a lifestyle perspective? Home and visiting players love it here, and I don't need to get into the reasons why. The key to keeping the good ones is winning. That's why players generally don't complain (yet) about plying their trade in Utah because they've been contending for the better part of 30 years.
But in many Toronto sports fans' minds, it doesn't matter that Bosh wasn't worth building a long-term contender around anyways. Until the team wins regularly, they'll lament any Raptors departure as some sort of personal insult to the city itself. Those are the ones who will be particularly vitriolic on Wednesday night at the ACC, and given Bosh's diva act, it is perhaps the first time they'll be completely warranted.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?