Toronto will host the NBA all-star game in 2016 and the Toronto Raptors have hired rapper Drake to join the team as a global ambassador.
Those two announcements will come as welcome news to Toronto's long-suffering basketball fans, who've not seen their team in the playoffs for the past five seasons.
It's hoped that Drake, an international superstar, Toronto-native and diehard Raptors fan, will not only attract fans but draw also top-level free agents to Toronto, something the team has struggled to do in the past.
“I want excitement for this team. I want them to be one of the biggest teams in this league," said Drake. “Everywhere I go I preach the gospel that is the city of Toronto, I love this city with all my heart.”
I want excitement for this team. I want them to be one of the biggest teams in this league- Drake, on the Raptors
The all-star game is a week-long event that brings an estimated economic impact of $100 million to the host city. It will be the first NBA all-star game to be held outside the United States.
“This is remarkable for our basketball team," said general manager Masai Ujiri. "We have a responsibility to grow our basketball team so it meets the momentum of the all-star game. This is awesome for the fans and awesome for the city.”
The Raptors also announced they plan to re-brand the team with new colours and branding, though not a new name.
Leiweke scheduled the announcement to coincide with the opening of camp, he said, to set a tone for the franchise. He called the day a "turning point" for the team.
"I think what you're seeing is the remaking of a franchise, the remaking of what people think about us, the remaking of the demand in the marketplace for us," Leiweke said. "I think there's a reason that we led the NBA in new ticket sales the last few weeks, there's now a buzz about this organization."
Leiweke stressed the all-star game isn't the final destination, that winning a championship is.
But a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008 has a long way to go. The Raptors went 34-48 last season, spending most of it digging out of a horrific 4-19 hole.
"Not to make Masai feel any more pressure than he already feels but I think we know we've got to be competitive by the all-star game," Leiweke said. "We can't be a dormant franchise, and what we won't do is have one thing to talk about in 2016, which is an all-star game. The all-star game should be part of a new image, it shouldn't be the new image."
With files from The Canadian Press