Despite record low temperatures the Toronto Raptors franchise, the city and Canada as a whole can be gratified by the success of our first foray as hosts of NBA All-Star Weekend. Living in the downtown core I personally got to experience the event from the periphery, witnessing the effects on the 6ix. To that end, in no particular order here are my personal insights and takeaways from the encounter:
Fashion: It’s fun to see the stars in their off court glory showing off their togs and style sense. DeMar DeRozan killed it this weekend starting with the track suits he wore to the media event, more like a high bred version of a track suit, but none the less a track suit. He looked sharp in a camel coat paired with distressed jeans at the Celebrity Game, was casually cool Saturday night and the suit with sunglasses pairing of he and Kyle Lowry called to mind a Men in Black salute for Game Day which was spot on.
Conversely I expected to see some wild statements from the NBA’s fashionisto Russell Westbrook, yet he was relatively tame. Instead it was local product Andrew Wiggins who held court on social media over his silver rock star jacket. In fact one of the BBoyz texted me Wiggins looked like Silver Elvis. For those not familiar, he’s referencing the guy who stands outside the Eaton Center clad entirely in silver, rather than a movie period of the late singer/actor. He may have a point, you be the judge:
Mascots: Have mascots ever played such a sizable role in All-Star weekend? Sure they entertain the kids but Orlando’s Stuff the Magic Dragon took his Andy Warholian 15 minutes of fame to a whole new level with his assistance on Aaron Gordon‘s Mascot Dunk Trilogy. Though for some (even in main stream sport media) apparently the mascot still has a ways to go before gaining instant recognition:
It's a mascot, Doug. A mascot. And the inflatables were great, too. https://t.co/YkxrFEXqW9
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 14, 2016
Kevin Hart and Draymond Green: So, I’m following up the previous point with Hart because in my opinion he’s become something of a celebrity mascot to the NBA. He’s advanced beyond performing in the Celebrity Game to full on involvement on Saturday night both on and off the court, even earning a spot at the NBA panel’s table. His overuse was wearing thin on my nerves last year, but then he found an odd doppelganger in Draymond Green which made him not only palatable, but actually funny. To wit, Green for me represents a rare commodity of a super star athlete who also has acting chops and personality in spades. Charles Barkley was the last NBA player who displayed that type of charisma and humor and now in Green the league has their present day version.
DUNKS: Like everyone I was completely enthralled with the event on Saturday and very envious of Zarar, Blake and a few of the BBoyz who were in attendance to experience the competition live. I’m surprised I haven’t blown up my computer from the numerous times I’ve replayed the videos. That said, I have some specific thoughts on this portion of the weekend:
Shaq penalizing Gordon and Zach LaVine on their second round dunks because it took 2 attempts may in fact have been partially responsible for what followed. At that point the players knew a miss could cost them the title, so in hindsight it increased the tension of the moment and simultaneously raised the stakes. Not to mention from that moment forward neither player missed their first attempt and cumulatively posted 7 perfect scores of 50.
Pundits implied Wiggins either wasn’t interested (like a LeBron James situation) or chose to not participate assuming he felt he couldn’t beat LaVine. Neither of those assumptions feels accurate, and I have a completely different read on this.
Wiggins has often cited Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as inspirations during his formative years. Given how fans reacted to the loss of TMac it’s conceivable a youngster would have taken the departure really hard. Further, as a player perhaps he saw the conflict created via Carter receiving the predominant media and fan attention as partial reasons leading to McGrady’s departure. If this is an accurate read then it would explain why Wiggins wouldn’t want to go up against his teammate. Especially considering how obviously important winning was to LaVine.
As a bit of segue I’ll note Wiggins may have in fact been the influence for some of Gordon’s and LaVine’s dunks. Video from the McDonald’s All American Game shows Wiggins and Gordon in the dunk comp and you’ll notice Gordon doing the same dunks he opened and closed his competition with on Saturday. You’ll also see Wiggins dunk with similar components utilized Saturday (under the legs and passing ball behind the back) by Gordon and LaVine. Suffice to say Wiggins could more than hold his own in this competition, but made an informed choice to support his teammate instead.
And though the above video showcases the same dunks, the video below better highlights Wiggins only needs two (yes TWO) steps to the basket to complete his dunks. In other words Wiggins is more than a viable candidate for the competition.
Speaking of influences the Raptors figured prominently in the finalists dunks:
Gordon’s assisted off the backboard dunk reminded me of DeRozan’s effort assisted by Amir Johnson:
Whereas LaVine’s behind the backboard felt like a marriage of Vince Carter’s out of bounds dunk and DeRozan’s windmill cuff dunk:
Also noteworthy was both players utilized a trilogy to represent their best moments of the night. In LaVine’s case it was the free throw line and in Gordon’s the mascot. There was great debate at Casa Tambz this weekend over who won the competition with many citing the sitting dunk as the night’s best while each players’ trilogy was noted as their personal best.
The debate in house was Gordon’s sitting dunk actually was assisted as he pushed off the mascot (though that takes nothing away from its creativity or jaw dropping effect). My stance was watching the sidelines I noted LaVine was repeatedly rushed by the players (not just his T-Wolf teammates). Returning to the year DeRozan competed against Blake Griffin who alluded a car to win, DeRozan was vocal about ‘no props’ and the purity of dunking mechanics. The relevance of that mind set then makes sense given the judging panel were all either in dunk contests or former players.
In fact the Dr. of Joyology and Raptor Republics own Steve Gennaro made the best point regarding LaVine’s winning effort. He notes 3 previous Slam Dunk Champions won based on free throw line dunks (Julius irving, Michael Jordan and Brent Barry). So, the fact LaVine extended that dunk to include a lob, a windmill and going under the legs can’t be over stressed.
Reactions: I’m surprised my neighbors haven’t tried to get me evicted considering the noise coming from my abode on Saturday night during the dunk off (thanks for being sympathetic). It’s understandable given the sudden death nature of the dunk off and how both Gordon and LaVine kept raising the bar. But the two reactions which stood out for me came from a player and a child:
Watch in the background as a seated Andre Drummond literally falls to the floor following Gordon’s sit dunk. I didn’t catch it at first, but at one point all my house guests were huddled together around my laptop replaying it over and over to gales of laughter.
The other came from Karter Lowry who wound up featured on several media outlets blogs, websites, articles and videos. Some even stated they didn’t know who he was which is odd given he is either sitting on his father’s (Kyle Lowry) lap or seen holding his hand.
Playing Host: It was a given DeRozan and Lowry would act as hosts to the players. It was also logical home grown talent Wiggins would cater to the younger players in town for the BBVA competition. What I noted was how well liked DeRozan is as he was seemingly flanked all weekend by players. In fact from my perspective there was an obvious divide of LeBron James crew (Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade) versus DeRozan, Lowry and Wiggins who were surrounded by James Harden (who DeRozan grew up with), Stephen Curry, Draymond Green etc.
For those who question that divide exists I can report there were two major parties on Saturday night: one held by Curry at a downtown restaurant/night club in a private room and the other by LeBron James held in a private dwelling on the Bridle Path. Suffice to say the on court divide appears to exist off the court as well. Which in my estimation isn’t a bad thing as I prefer the old school methodology (you hate your opponent during the season).
As for Wiggins for those of us pinning to see him in a Raptors jersey it’s interesting to note he spent much of Saturday sitting with Towns and DeMarre Carroll as well as Bismack Biyombo. Could the fact he’s so comfortable with existing Raptors be a sign of things to come? Yeah, I know it’s a long way off, but we can still dream about the potential it can happen right.
Confidence and Chemistry : I saved this portion to end the post as it has the most bearing on what occurs this week through to the end of the season.
Recalling last year’s All-Star weekend Rudy Gobert’s performance in the BBVA Rising Stars built his confidence and led to Utah trading Enes Kanter and the Jazz catapulted up the West ladder into the playoff conversation. Looking back at the weekend I’d say it’s fair to say Gordon will definitely bring some new found confidence back to Orlando, but the overwhelming winner of the confidence marker goes to the Timberwolves. They return to Minnesota with their triumvirate of Wiggins, LaVine and Towns holding 2 titles and great performances by all in the events they participated in. Perhaps most importantly was LaVine’s win in the BBVA event as his growth will be the determining factor in how quickly the T-Wolves ascend. Sure I’m a bit biased having picked them as my dark horse this season, but it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize they’ll be the next ‘it’ squad in the Association.
My final takeaway comes courtesy of Zach Lowe (via Howard Beck) who takes us out of the All Star Weekend into the trade deadline and remaining 30 games of the regular season:
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) February 14, 2016
It may seem odd, but this tweet for me sums up just how far this Toronto Raptors squad has come. Though Lowe isn’t referencing any particular team(s) its a pretty safe bet Toronto isn’t on the above list. The Raptors have grown, and even to a layman their strong chemistry on and off the court is visible.
This weekend also exhibited just how far the organization has come in such a short time. It galvanized that the Raptors are on the right track towards building long term success. As for whether players were deterred by the cold this weekend or still harbor any resistance to playing here. I say who cares, because based on what we’ve witnessed the type of player who would use the cold as an excuse to avoid Toronto doesn’t fit the mold of who the Raptors are now or who they want to become in the future!
Bring on the final 30 games. Let’s go Raptors!