This could have been soooo much fun.
I grew up in Toronto, Canada in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, playing, watching and falling in love with the game of basketball, I was a Los Angeles Lakers fanatic from the days of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then of course like all the World fell in love with Michael Jordan.
It was a dream come true when we learned in the early 1990’s that the City of Toronto would be awarded an NBA Franchise, The team was originally majority owned by an individual and huge basketball fan John Bitove Jr. (similar to a Mark Cuban) who had real passion for the sport and brought in Isiah Thomas to run the team. Unfortunately, due to monetary issues that most start up businesses face, Bitove Jr. sold the Raptors to MLG Ltd who had owned the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, The ownership group that included Larry Tanenbaum and the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan also acquired rights to the arena that would become the Air Canada Center ( One of the most profitable Arenas in North America.) and be restructured as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
This to me was the start of the demise of a team and sport that barely started their journey to a hopeful NBA Championship. It was obvious by the company name alone that the Raptors would not be the number one priority for an Ownership group that was more concerned about their Return on Investment numbers than Championships won, as evidenced by the fact the Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a Championship since 1967, yet are one of the most profitable sports teams in the world.
There have been a lengthy list of poor ownership and management decisions along with agreeing to an extremely egregious set of circumstances David Stern imposed on the expansion franchise….here are just a sampling;
1. The fact that we Won the 1996 Entry draft and could have had Allen Iverson, but were relegated to the 2nd pick because of one of the Stern imposed rules for agreeing to allow the 4th largest market in North America to have a team, (like the NBA did not see the value and we gave up the farm to get a tractor.! (and oh btw; drafted Marcus Camby instead of KOBE BRYANT!)
2. Again the NBA rules screwed us….. Losing our draft pick Tracy Mcgrady, 3 yrs. after we drafted him, RIDICULOUS! ( Currently teams have 7 years before a draft pick becomes a true unrestricted free agent. )
3. Then IN 2001, We went on to draft Michael Bradley,(who?) ahead of Zach Randolph or Tony PARKER.!
4. In 2003, We drafted Chris Bosh with the 4th overall pick, the Miami Heat just happened to draft a guy by the name of Dwayne Wade with the #5 pick.!
5. In 2004, We choose Rafael Araújo with the 8th overall pick, we could have had any of Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith or Al Jefferson.
6. In 2005, We drafted Charlie Villanueva with the 7th overall pick, ahead of a two time NBA champion Center Andrew Bynum and any of Danny Granger, David Lee or Monta Ellis!
7. In 2006, We Finally got that coveted #1 OVERALL SELECTION, and took Andrea Bargnani instead of LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo and our very own Rudy Gay! (since subsequently traded)
8. We traded our 2007 FIRST RD PICK For Lamond Murray, we could have easily had oh….Marc Gasol.
9. Then came 2008, We drafted a 7’2″ Center by the name of Roy HIBBERT, probably a FRANCHISE CHANGING PICK………..then of course TRADED Him to Indiana for Jermaine O’neil.!
10. It’s probably a bit too early to judge recent picks Demar Derozan, Jonas Valančiūnas, or Terrence Ross, but none of them are franchise altering, number one options on a Championship basketball team.
THIS is just the AWFUL DRAFT HISTORY of my be-loved Toronto Raptors, not even beginning to mention decisions like….
11. Allowing Vince Carter to go to his Graduation the afternoon of the single BIGGEST GAME in FRANCHISE HISTORY.
12. Firing Butch Carter as Head Coach.
13. Allowing Rob Babcock (In my opinion the WORST G.M. IN SPORTS HISTORY) TO TRADE Vince Carter.
14. Believing that Chris Bosh was going to stay here when EVERYONE with a pea for a Brain knew he was going to Miami or Dallas.
15. Continuing to believe that Bargnani was going to be a franchise player and not trading him while he had Actual value…….now we’ll be lucky to get a bag of Basketballs for him. (probably not even blown up…!) (Has been subsequently traded to the NY Knicks, for more than I believed we could get…)
Stephen King could not have written a better Horror Story.!
I truly believe the problems/issues with the Raptors, and quite frankly most poor sports teams or businesses, starts and ends with Awful Ownership, The Raptors have been an afterthought to a board of directors more concerned with building condominiums and restaurants than building a competitive basketball team. All their decisions have had short term thinking because they only want to sell seats, advertisement and commercial air time rather than understand that to build a long term highly competitive team you must be willing to bottom out for a few years instead of continuous middling!
Amazingly, and somehow not shockingly this story in my opinion got worse last year. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan sold their shares of ownership in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to a consortium of two high powered communication corporations; Rogers Inc. and Bell Canada. These two companies’ mirror each other in owning individually, specialty Sports TV stations, Sports Radio stations; Sports based Websites, along with being the two major carriers of Cable, internet and home phone services throughout Canada. The intentions are clear, Sporting content is king in the media these days as perhaps the only non-Tivo/PVR property left to advertisers, and why would a new ownership group who has airtime to sell want to embark on a rebuilding plan that this team has been in need of for almost fifteen years.?
The new ownership group hired Mr.Tim Leiweke who had run the organisation of the Los Angeles Kings and MLS’s Galaxy, as their new operations president, but his job again oversees the entire company, and the Raptors continue to be well down the priority list.
Yet after all of this, I still Want to Believe………and brings me to the reason for writing this piece, The best move the Toronto Raptors have made, possibly in their entire history but definitely within the past decade. The hiring of Mr. Masai Ujiri as General Manager. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Masai and he is ALL you’d expect an Executive of the Year to be….,
I have been a Raptors fan from Day 1 and call me naive BUT I think they finally have the right man for the Captain’s job….so as David Stern retires and hopefully takes his curse on the Raptors with him, Let’s press restart once aging, and hope we will end this restart with a Ring.