TORONTO — The first NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto is upon us, and as we prepare it’s hard not to wonder what the event’s lasting legacy will be.
Will it be the fact this is the first all-star game held outside of the United States? Will it be the possibility of a trade deadline deal first gaining traction with all the NBA personnel in the city? How about the many, many parties going on?
Or is it something we can’t see in the immediate aftermath of the weekend — not after a month or even a year?
Sixteen years ago, a budding Toronto Raptors superstar named Vince Carter jumped out of our television sets and in the process influenced an entire generation of Canadian youngsters who are now playing in the NBA.
Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, Dwight Powell, Trey Lyles...the list goes on and on.
It’s been said Canada is entering a golden era of basketball and a large contributor to that was the fateful moment on Feb. 12, 2000, when Carter took flight in the slam dunk contest.
But will Canada’s growing basketball legacy only end with those who grew up on "Air Canada"?
It shouldn’t, and having all-star weekend on home soil should ensure that. At least that’s what eight-time NBA all-star and retired Canadian basketball icon Steve Nash is hoping for.
"I think the wish for anything is inspiration," Nash said at an event at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto Thursday. "Being able to see the best players in the world come to our city, our country and play in the most important game of the year, in one respect, it's just going to inspire kids to get out there and play and try to mimic and enjoy the same passion and privilege it is for all the all-stars to play the game.
"That's really what you look for, is for kids to be inspired by what they might witness and for it to be here at home hopefully will be a big inspiration for our kids. ... That's what inspired me as a kid, and hopefully a lot of kids will be inspired by the weekend."
A perfect example of how having the NBA’s signature showcase in Toronto may help nurture the next generation of Canadian basketball stars and ensure this "golden era" has real staying power was Thursday night’s inaugural Jordan Brand Invitational, a two-game event featuring two of the top prep schools in the United States (Redondo Union and Oak Hill Academy) squaring off against a pair of Canada’s best programs (Father Henry Carr and Orangeville Prep).
In both games the Canadian contingent fell, Henry Carr losing 97-72 to Redondo and Orangeville going down 77-67 to Oak Hill, but ultimately the final scores of these contests don’t matter.
Just the very nature of the Jordan Brand Invitational is "mission accomplished" for the grander scheme of this NBA All-Star Weekend and the continued growth of the game within Canada.
Henry Carr is the top-rated Toronto District Catholic Association program, but it hardly ever sees competition close to that of Redondo on a consistent basis. Orangeville, on the other hand, is the top-ranked team in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association -- a league that Henry Carr also plays out of -- and does feature a more heavy U.S.-based schedule, but could always benefit from consistently better competition like it saw in Oak Hill.
Some of the notable alumni from each school includes Milwaukee Bucks guard Tyler Ennis and Raptors 905 centre Sim Bhullar from Henry Carr, while Kentucky Wildcats freshman phenom Jamal Murray played for Orangeville.
Everyone listed above is a player worth celebrating, but a common theme among those players is that they all had to go down south to finish their high school careers in order to see the kind of exposure their talents dictated. The exception, of course, being Murray, who managed a stellar career playing close to home.
Murray aside, it’s no secret the vast majority of top Canadian high school talent that went on to play Division I NCAA basketball and beyond had to go to the U.S. in order to play against better competition and get greater exposure.
What if a day were to come when Canada’s best talent didn’t have to leave the country in order to fulfill their dreams?
Jordan Brand has done a lot for Canadian basketball, dating back to the creation of the annual Jordan Brand Classic in 2002 when Denham Brown, another Henry Carr alum, was selected to play. Now with this special Canada-U.S. invitational taking place -- which will also hopefully turn into an annual event -- grassroots Canadian basketball has found another avenue of growth.
In the end, like Nash said, the hope of an event like the Jordan Brand Invitational is to inspire. Why can’t more programs like Orangeville Prep pop up to help this nation’s most talented grassroots-level hoopers, allowing them to stay home? Why can’t this event be the springboard to more highly publicized prep-level Canada-U.S. tournaments in the Great White North?
If we really want to keep Canadian kids in the country for the duration of their high school careers, at least, we need to find ways to show them there are definite options here first.
Like Carter did 16 years ago, this weekend’s festivities could inspire an entire generation Canadian ballers, and could shift how they go about working towards fulfilling their future basketball ambitions.
If that is the lasting legacy of the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, wouldn’t that be inspiring?