Toronto

Remember this guy? Meet the original face of the Toronto Raptors

Jorge Giuria would never play a minute for the Raptors or any other NBA team. But back in 1995, before the team's inaugural season, he was one of the first to wear the team's new uniform and pose for promotional pictures.

Jorge Giuria never played for Toronto, but he was one of the first to wear the Raps uniform

Jorge Giuria was one of the first to wear a Raptors uniform. Giuria posed for this promotional picture several months before the Raptors inaugural season in 1995. (Toronto Raptors)

Kawhi Leonard is the face of the Toronto Raptors this year, as the team gets ready to play its regular season home opener Wednesday evening.

There have been many others who have played this role throughout the 24-year history of the franchise. Names like Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Demar DeRozan — all players whose likeness has been used by the team to sell tickets.

But there's another name on that list that doesn't have quite the cachet . 

Jorge Giuria's face was the first to appear on marketing posters and brochures aimed at selling season tickets. But he would never play a single minute for the Raptors or any other NBA team.

Back in 1995, Giuria was 18 and had just competed in the first high-school basketball all-star game ever played in the Toronto area.  

"I played pretty well and I had met a few people from the Raptors organization," Giuria told CBC Toronto back in September during a visit to the city.

In fact, one of the executives from the team took his information and a few weeks later called him out of the blue.

"He had asked if I wanted to take a few pictures for the Toronto Raptors," said Giuria, who's now 41 and works as a registered nurse in Florida.

In fact, Raptors management wanted Giuria to be one of the first to wear the National Basketball Association expansion team's new uniform and pose for promotional pictures. According to Giuria, it was at that photo shoot that he met another young Canadian basketball player who was just about to embark on an impressive pro career.

"Steve Nash was also there," Giuria said. "I think he was getting ready to enter the NBA draft so it was known that they weren't going to use any of his images."

Jorge Giuria says he was not paid for the photo shoot he did with the Raptors, but he was given a pair of basketball shoes, instead. (Gary Morton/CBC News)

Giuria was never paid for the photo shoot, which lasted a few hours, but the Raptors did give him a parting gift, which he was happy to accept as payment.

"They gave me a pair of basketball shoes," he said.

Not long after his day with the Raptors, Giuria moved to Boston to go to college. He had all but forgotten about the photo shoot, when his phone started ringing.

"Friends and family called me up and said, 'You know, this picture is on subways, on TTC, you know, on buildings,'" he said.

Giuria was suddenly the face of Toronto's brand new basketball team.

"For those few months, it was the team's marketing campaign," said Dave Haggith, who worked in communications for the Raptors at the time. Haggith is now the senior director of communications for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that now owns both the Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

"The Raptors were really a logo and a season tickets sales brochure. We didn't have players yet at that time," Haggith said.

The Raptors had still not selected Damon Stoudamire as the first-ever draft pick in franchise history. Stoudamire would eventually go on to become the face of the team in the early years.

Jorge Giuria poses with a framed poster he took from a TTC subway station in 1995. (Jorge Guria)

Giuria remembers coming home to visit family for Christmas in 1995. By then, the Raptors inaugural season was well underway and posters of Stoudamire were quickly replacing Giuria's around the city, but not everywhere.

"I was on the subway and I seen a copy and I was like I have to have one," Giuria said.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, Giuria took it right off the wall of the subway station.

I have it to this day but it's in pretty rough condition."