Kyrie Irving

Yeah, the economy’s crap. Jobs are being cut across the board. 50,000 students are being screwed. We’re smack in the belly of another snowy, frostbitten winter. Our girlfriends are looking less tanned, less toned, and are growing less patient with our TV monopolization. We keep sprouting hairs where no hair should grow. And sure, we’ve won a couple games, but our favourite basketball team is folding like a deck chair, struggling to keep from sinking deeper into the Eastern Conference basement.

Happy frickin’ new year.

When my father was a kid, he’d hop on the bus from Toronto once a month to visit his cousins living in Buffalo. Since he was traveling alone, his parents (my grandparents) made him promise to call once he arrived to say he was safe and sound. So once his aunt picked him up at the bus station and brought him to her place, he’d make his call. But here’s the thing: his aunt and uncle were too cheap to incur the long distance cost. He could have reversed the charges, but his parents were also too cheap to accept the collect call. It’s a ridiculous and petty Catch .22, to which they developed a solution. What they decided is that my father would call the operator and set up a collect call. When it came time to record his name, my father would put on his best woman’s voice and say “Alice Fine” to trick the operator into letting it through. When my grandparents heard the call from “Alice Fine” (“All is Fine”), they’d hang up, knowing he got there safely. And no one had to pay. Over time, “Alice Fine” came to be more than a easy joke to make fun of my grandparents when I felt the need. It came to mean “everything’s okay”.

You’d be remiss to find a silver lining around Toronto these days. Mainstream media, blogs, subway chatter, writing on bathroom walls – it’s all negative. Even with a two game winning streak, the talk is focused on who we should trade and who is overachieving. But I have news for you, Raptors fans: Alice Fine.  

When I told people I was writing an article about the need for optimism, I received a bunch of snarky, requisite “it can’t get any worse” type comments. But cross my heart, even as we lose games, confidence, and sanity while watching Will Solomon, say it with me: IT’S. GOING. TO. BE. OKAY. For realsies.

Let’s put aside all the griping and the losses and the injuries and the Solomons and take stock for a second. Where do the Raptors fit as a team? Well, we’re certainly not in the Golden State, Atlanta, Portland, and Memphis group, teams with more young talent than ‘High School Musical’. And it would be disrespectful (not to mention fucking crazy) to insinuate we’re a part of the San Antonio, Boston, Denver, Cleveland, Utah, New Orleans, Houston group – teams with character, chemistry, experience, and discipline.

I think we fall, like most teams, into the mush in middle alongside Philly, New York, Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, etc.  We’re not part of the bottom feeders, no matter how many losses we rack up. We’re just not THAT far off.

 Two All-Star caliber big men and a dependable, B+/A- point guard isn’t something to take for granted.  Great win against Orlando? Positive for sure. Forget the rest of the roster is made up of a mix of bench players and D-League talent, we have a foundation. There are things to be excited for. Looking at the teams with success, the following 3 statements can be made:

1. They’ve been playing together for a while and developed chemistry

2. They have a deep and versatile roster

3.  They believe they should win every time they step on the court

The first can only happen over time. We need time for our four new players to get accustomed to playing with everyone else, and time for the whole team to adjust to a new coach and a new system. The second can only happen as a young team matures or a trade is made. Joey has performed better than ANYONE could have imagined, Bargnani has shown flashes, and Roko has nowhere to go but up. I’m not advocating these three as the solution – I think we need to trade for some depth. I’m just saying that no one thought Vujacic, Farmar, or Walton would grow into the valuable role players they have. Rome was not built in a day.

The third statement can only come from within. There’s no question confidence plays a major role in success. Basketball, like life, is a mindfuck. One of the things that has stuck with me is my Grade 8 basketball coach saying that NBA players, when unguarded in practice, should never miss a shot. NEVER. That might be a bit of a stretch, but I would suspect that our team isn’t even shooting 50% in practice these days. Their confidence is shattered, people are pointing fingers and calling them failures and questioning their resolve and none of that is helpful. Today they’re probably feeling pretty good, but if we slip up and let a decent Milwaukee team steal a win? You know we’re back to scowls and shuffling feet.

The big black doom cloud over the franchise is counterproductive. In our defence, when we’re involved in a close game it’s tough to get up and excited, because we feel/know we’re going to lose. But if you’ve predetermined defeat, the game might as well be over. A smart movie once said “if you will it, it is no dream.” As Raptors fans, we need to help them “will it”. Right now we’re doing exactly the opposite, willing our team to losses. Now I know we’re not out there on the court, but we have to have an impact, right? 

One of the beautiful and frustrating and amazing things about professional sports is how quickly the tide can turn. Forget Boston for a moment, that was a unique set of circumstances. But teams like Portland and Atlanta this year, New Orleans last year, and the Raptors the year before can make big leaps with a little bit of media coverage. The story gets spun, spreads through the league, and a team grows more confident, gets a taste for the spotlight, and suddenly you believe what everyone else is saying – we’re contenders! Of course, the other end of the teeter-totter is when the whole league is calling you a collossal disappointment. We’ve been privy to both extremes.

And honestly, what fun is being negative all the time? Sports are supposed to be fun, right? Fandom is a marriage, not an affair. It has its rough patches, its disagreements, but also its moments of “holy shit, I fucking love you”. Us Raptors fans are a particular breed, volatile and passionate and reactive, way more “American” than  “Canadian”. I’m not saying you hate your country, what I’m saying is that some of you sound like you hate your team. Bring frustrated and disappointed is valid and fair, but hate? If you really, truly feel that way, why put yourself through the torture? There are lots of other teams to hang your hat on. Ones with more interesting superstars, cooler uniforms, and better names. 

For those that still believe in the Raptors, that will stay the course during trying time: Alice Fine, friends. We’re not Vancouver or Seattle. We don’t have Isaiah Thomas or Kevin McHale on the payroll. No Raptor players are storming into the crowd to beat up 4 Korners (though, there would be worse things…)

After a boneheaded turnover, a lost double-digit lead, or an ill-advised Bosh/Bargnani/Moon three-pointer, remember: Alice Fine. Even if a few wins make way for a few losses. Say it a few times if you need to. It can be our own ubuntu.

Alice Fine.