(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
When I heard about Toronto Raptor guard Rafer Alston leaving Gund Arena before Tuesday night’s game against the Cavs had ended, because he was benched in the first period, I had two questions. Does Canada really need the NBA? Does the NBA really need Canada?
Alston’s latest bout of immaturity is another in a long line of lunacy the former street ballin’ legend has committed this season, which includes leaving practices early, verbally abusing a referee and threatening to retire.
On Wednesday, the former ‘Skip to My Lou’ demanded an apology from “someone”, or he may just take his ball and go home for good. Maybe he wants someone to say sorry because he was crying when he walked out on his team Tuesday.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not Toronto’s fault, it just seems as if Canada is a breeding ground for NBA player dissension. Only players who are in contract years or new to the league enjoy playing north of the border. It’s not like Toronto is Tatooine or something. If Toronto were paying me seven digits to play basketball, I would become an ambassador for all things Canadian.
Vince Carter wanted out so bad he stopped trying and started telling opposing teams what play the Raptors were going to run. While I wanted to believe that was just in Carter’s make-up, he is making the most of his new opportunity in New Jersey. New Jersey?!
As soon as Carter’s cousin Tracy McGrady reached drinking age and increased his scoring average to double digits, he fled to the sunny confines of Florida. Current Raptor Jalen Rose wants out so bad; he broke out for 22 in front of New York GM Isiah Thomas, who has been openly coveting the ex-Wolverine for his over-paid and under-achieving Knicks.
Did I mention that Toronto is paying Rose $14 million dollars this year for playing matador defense and averaging 16 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds? They are also throwing tons of money at Alston and are doing a shoddy job of building around their future star, Chris Bosh.
Maple Leaf Sports owns the Raptors, so you would think they would have some extra cash to throw at their hoops team – considering how hockey is done for this year and probably half of next.
Maybe they’re screwing up the Raptors because they are running it like a NHL team. Canada is a hockey country – do they really even need a pro basketball team? Are they playing competitively in high school and college up there? And if so, why is Steve Nash the only Canuck running amok in the NBA?
Football has done pretty well in Canada. They have their own league – the CFL – and even though the rules are kind of weird, it is actually pretty successful. Since the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis (a move that paid almost immediate dividends), the Raptors are the only hoops attraction in town.
In the past, Canada and basketball have gone mitten in mitten. Not only did a Canadian – Dr. James Naismith – invent the game, but the Toronto Huskies played the first ever game in what would become the NBA against the New York Knickerbockers in 1946.
Facts that are pretty impressive, until you realize Naismith’s game gained a following in America, and the Huskies folded just a year after tipping off.
The Raptor fans aren’t to blame, however. They regularly come out and support the home team and are in the middle of the league’s statistics for attendance every year. In fact, more fans come out for the Raptors than New Jersey (New Jersey?!), who until this year has been in contention for the Finals this entire decade.
So, in response to my second question, I guess the answer is yes. Stern and the boys will keep the Raptors in Toronto as long as they are making money. If the fans ever stop coming to games because they are tired of rooting for spoiled millionaires who would rather play somewhere else, then maybe the league will relocate them.
Until then, the fans deserve better. They deserve a team that wants to play for them, and management and coaching that will sit players who don’t want to play or do stupid things like leaving the arena in a pouting fit.
If Stern is so concerned about his league’s image, maybe he should turn his attention to Toronto and force the Raptors to act like Americans, instead of ignorant foreigners.