What's Good For The Drake Is Good For The Grandeur
NFL legend Barry Sander scored many touchdowns in his illustrious career. When he crossed the goal line Sanders casually handed the ball to the referee and jogged back to his bench. One day a reporter asked him, “Barry, why don’t you celebrate more when you score an important TD?”
Sanders replied. “I want people to think I’ve been there before.”
Which brings us to Drake, the megastar who made his bones on Degrassi: The Next Generation. With the Toronto Raptors making it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history there’s as much talk about the ubiquitous pop star as there is about the team itself. Specifically, with the “hot take” U.S. media about to descend on Toronto for Game One of the Final on Thursday, what’s to be done about the preening, mocking and otherwise Fan Boy behaviour from his courtside seat?
If you haven’t caught his act, Drake sits just to the left of the Raptors bench, near the team broadcasters. From there he baits opponents, skips around on the court like Jagger and, to the consternation of Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, rubs the shoulders of Raptors coach Nick Nurse. He’s also led the crowds at Jurassic Park, the outdoor fan zone outside the Scotiabank Centre, during road games.
The act has gone over about as well as you might expect. A miffed Budenholzer asked why a fan was allowed on the court during play. For a number of opponents, Drake went off their playlist when he taunted them after losses. In Milwaukee, the radio stations banned his music during the Eastern Conference Final. If you’re a fan of the opponents he’s a wannabe baller running his s**t without backing it up.
If you’re a fan of the Raptors, though, he’s the “face of the franchise”. A sign the city can build subways and chew gum at the same time. Toronto worships him.
To the rest of the world he’s a garish billboard for Drake ®
Celebrities at courtside are not unknown. Film maker Spike Lee sits courtside at New York Knicks games and runs his mouth. Jack Nicholson is an enthusiastic Lakers fans from his courtside perch at the Staples Center in L.A. Actor Vince Vaughan was prominent during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup runs.
Sometimes the attention-seeking fans are less famous but no less prominent. For a few years the Vancouver Canucks featured the Green Men who occupied seats next to the penalty box to mock opponents with street theatre tactics. (Nashville GM David Poile tried to have them banned.) The Philly Phanatic was famous for getting into the grill of opponents.
Which brings us back to Barry Sanders. Does Toronto want to be known as a sports city that’s been there before, is cool with it all and doesn’t need to brag?
Or does it want to be known as Fanboy City, acting like it’s their first night in the big city? Like a needy homeboy kissing up to the jocks in school?
What’s funny in this dilemma is that Toronto really aspires to be Barry Sanders, the too-cool-for-school city that hosts movie stars at TIFF and NBA stars like Kawhi Leonard with a shrug of the shoulders and a “what can we say?” insouciance about its rep. It wants to be the city where bystanders don’t turn their heads when Bobby DeNiro or Bob Dyan walk past.
But Drake, whose debut record was Thank Me Later, is giving away the game. Toronto is in Depends territory now that the cities of its dreams— LA, ChiTown or NYC— must watch its precious NBA team playing in their city before their fans. Including the guy whose music you can’t escape and whose MO is look-at-me.
How needy is YYZ for this multi-cult sport approval? NBA superstar, now salty analyst, Charles Barkley went overboard about Toronto, calling it one of the “best-kept secrets” around. Toronto mayor John Tory, ignoring the slight about his town being a secret, immediately fawned all over Barkley, ordering up a grovelling letter and photo op with him.
Adding to this image irony is the Golden State Warriors, the opposition from the San Francisco Bay Area. The Warriors represent Silicon Valley dreams and the kind of hip liberal governance that woke Hogtown gets all sweaty about. Frisco is Toronto’s dream date.
So, go for it, Drake. Forget the naysayers. Da’ mayor has your back. After all, you said it best: What a Time to Be Alive .
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them brucedowbigginbooks.ca is now available.