Kyle Lowry didn’t need Justin Bieber’s help. And who needs the Global Ambassador, anyway?
He’s used to doing things on his own terms. The baller who never cared to be liked but demanded you respect him is suddenly one of the 10 most admired players in the NBA.
Perhaps one of the unlikeliest starters to earn the honour in recent NBA history, the Toronto Raptors sparkplug capped off an incredible 12-month turnaround for him and his franchise by being named an Eastern Conference starter for the 64th edition of the mid-season spectacle being held at Madison Square Garden on February 15th.
“Thank you to the wonderful Raptors fans across the NBA, especially in Canada!” Lowry said in a release distributed by the Raptors. “I am amazed by your passion for our team and the support you have given me. When I re-signed here this summer I said one of the great things is being able to play for an entire country. This is further proof how really special that is.”
Lowry is averaging career highs in points (19.8), rebounds (4.9), assists (7.5) and steals (1.6) through 42 games. He ranks 18th in the NBA in scoring and sixth in assists.
The 28-year-old rode a final-week voting surge that saw him gain over 100,000 votes to surpass 10-time all-star Dwyane Wade and earn the starting backcourt spot alongside the Washington Wizards’ John Wall.
They’ll join Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Pau Gasol in the starting lineup. The West features Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant and Marc Gasol. Lowry finished with 805,290 votes, second among Eastern Conference guards. Curry’s 1,513,324 votes led the balloting.
Lowry was the source and beneficiary of the Raptors franchise-best first-half record of 27-14 -- good for third in the East -- and a social media push that included support from the likes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, not to mention endless urging on Raptors broadcasts that tapped into fans’ “We The North” belief that things that happen above the border are easy to overlook.
Not this time.
He didn’t benefit from the votes that could have potentially been generated by the support of Canadian pop icon Bieber (his attempt to drum up support failed as he didn’t follow the proper format on Twitter while encouraging his 59.5-million followers to vote for the Raptors star. Meanwhile the Raptors Global Ambassador, Drake, didn’t reach out to his 20-million Twitter followers where every retweet would have counted as a vote, instead he merely urged his 6.8-million Instagram followers to vote Lowry.
With or without their help, Lowry gained the support he needed, perhaps to the relief of Raptors coach Dwane Casey who was so determined his point guard would get the all-star recognition he deserved he jokingly threatened to fight any of the coaches who didn’t support Lowry being named as a reserve had he not got in by vote.
It never came to that, as the fans spoke.
It was a development that no one could have seen coming. While a year ago Lowry was in the midst of the best season of his nine-year career up until that point, he was passed as a reserve in voting by NBA coaches, in part – it was thought – because the tightly-knit coach’s fraternity held against him his reputation as a prickly malcontent that followed him from stops in Memphis and Houston.
His stock was low enough in the summer of 2012 that then-Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo was able to acquire Lowry from the Houston Rockets for a first-round pick in the 2013 draft. In his first year with the Raptors he chafed at having to share playing time and starts with Jose Calderon and by the middle of last season current general manager Masai Ujiri had worked hard to trade Lowry only to have deals with the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors fall through or not quite get to the finish line.
The Raptors were poised to rebuild and Lowry was a piece that could be leveraged for future assets.
In the space of a year, everything is different.
Lowry signed a four-year, $48-million contract in the off-season and is considered a foundation piece for the franchise that he himself figured was simply another stop on the road when he first arrived, an impression he did nothing to curb:
“I was not a bad teammate. I was just really in a world of my own. I was just like, All right, I’m going to go to work. That’s all I’m going to do,” Lowry told Jonathan Abrams of Grantland this past September. “I’m not going to fraternize. I’m going to go to work, come home, that’s it. Because it wasn’t my team. I was a role player.”
And the chances then of Lowry becoming a long-term fixture in Toronto?
“I’d tell you, ‘You can kiss my ass,’” Lowry said. “I never thought I’d be back. Put it like this: I thought, I’ll do my two-year bid and I’m gone. That was it.”
By the end of last season, as the Raptors were making their surprising playoff push, Lowry’s take-no-prisoners on-court persona was being mentioned in the same breath as Toronto Maple Leafs gritty hockey icons Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour -- perhaps the ultimate sign of respect in a market where the Raptors success and style under Lowry’s leadership was rewarding old fans and reaching out to new ones.
Even his biggest supporters couldn’t believe the arc of his career.
“I really knew that Kyle was a top-10 point guard,” said Colangelo. “I just didn’t know that he was a top-five point guard.”
No one did. How could they? But Lowry is now one of five Eastern Conference players who will start at the All-Star game in New York City, and joins Vince Carter and Chris Bosh as just the third Raptor to earn the honour in franchise history.
And he did it his way.