Take, for instance, the comments that one-time Raptor Chris Bosh made to a small group reporters in Miami on Sunday night (published in the Toronto Sun). Bosh was asked about Toronto’s recent success and rise in the Eastern Conference standings over the last month.
“I think the perception will always be the same, which is they’re a team which is north of the border,” he said. “As far as perception is concerned, it will always be the same I think. It’s just something they have to fight against.”
Given the fact that Bosh spent nearly three-quarters of a decade “north of the border”, he should know the reality of Toronto as a city, marketplace and organization within the NBA community. It is one with challenges; no doubt. But are those challenges related to coloured currency and chilly winter weather, or are they directly related to the fact that the Raptors have qualified for the post-season only five times in 18 seasons and are currently mired in a five-year drought?
During Bosh’s time in the Great White North, he put up gaudy numbers and, arguably, enjoyed the greatest individual glory of his career. Playing outside of the United States didn’t seem to matter when “CB-4” was voted-in as an All-Star starter—by fans from around the world—or when coaches across the league lauded the talent and skill of the double-double machine in T.O.
But the team underachieved—only making the playoffs twice. Opportunities passed. And Bosh eventually left for Miami while the Raptors struggled with the reality of one second-round appearance in franchise history (a stat that still holds true to this day).
Did Bosh head to the Heat because of the “perception” of the Raptors? Only he knows. But the lack of appearances on big-boy U.S networks like TNT, ABC and ESPN has less to do with Americans’ opinion of Toronto and more to do with winning (or lack there of).
To appropriate a line from Field of Dreams: If you win, they will come.
Forget the fact that there are ways to get ESPN in Canada…if you’re a little…errr…’creative.’ Forget that top tax lawyers and accountants have repeatedly downplayed the ugly beast that is Canadian taxation on American players. And forget the weather in Toronto, which is often no worse than Boston, Chicago, New York and pretty much any other northeastern or central city in the NBA. Winning is what matters.
Look at Paul Pierce. He’s playing in a major market like Brooklyn with a deep-pocketed owner, but his Nets are well below .500 and out of the post-season. Anyone think he’d like to change places with Kevin Durant or Paul George?
Those two will be all stars this season and could very well be battling for the NBA championship as well. But they’re stuck in small markets like Oklahoma City and Indianapolis that no player wants to go to? Yeah, right.
Losing, it seems, drove Dwight Howard out of Orlando and, eventually, into the Rockets organization (appearances in the playoffs—and even the Finals—be damned). The Magic weren’t winning enough and D12 wanted a ring, so he bolted. Then, and now, Orlando has warm weather and no state tax. Again, winning is what matters, not beaches and babes.
Heck, the sandy shores of Southern California haven’t changed much in decades but the Clippers couldn’t draw flies until Chris Paul came to town. Now a team that was a punchline is a potential powerhouse. It’s the residue of winning.
San Antonio sure isn’t Las Vegas but that hasn’t stopped the Spurs from collecting as many rings as Liberace; Allen Iverson seemed quite fine in the holiday hotbed of Philadelphia; and Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen didn’t appear to be phased by the malaise of Milwaukee.
The lists go on. The examples are plentiful. Winning matters.
Winning is not perceived, it’s real. If and when Toronto wins, players won’t care what side of the 49th parallel the Raptors are on.