Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire morphs into a leader for Caribana

Jamaal Magloire. (Patsy Coyle/MLSE)

On most days as he’s patrolling this city, Jamaal Magloire is fielding questions about his day job.

Will Serge Ibaka start at the five? What is the ceiling of Jonas Valanciunas? How is Jakob Poeltl’s progress coming? Who is the next great Canadian big man? These are the questions that get peppered towards the recognizable Toronto Raptors assistant coach on a daily basis.

But there is one day of the year where his priorities morph: Toronto Caribbean Carnival, or Caribana.

As he patrols the CNE grounds where the annual Toronto parade starts, Magloire is known here not for the rebounds he collected during his 12-year NBA career, but rather as the Mas band leader of the Toronto Revellers.

Just like during his playing days, Magloire’s versatility makes him valuable to the team on parade day. “Jack of all trades. I’m on the percussion, I get water. I lead the charge. Whatever is needed on that day,” the former NBA centre explains.

This is a different side of the “Big Cat” than most ever see. On the parade route it’s hugs and handshakes, not the hard fouls and head fakes he was known for as a dominant presence in the post.

He equates his professional NBA ties and his prideful cultural association similarly. Both include team work, organization and are exhausting. Magloire goes without sleep 48 hours leading up to and after Carnival day to ensure everything gets done and is in order. This includes intricate costumes prepared by hand and delivered to the 2,000-plus masqueraders in his band and coordination of more sound equipment than is found in the Air Canada Centre to power the soca music blasting from his four-parade float tractor-trailer trucks.

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As I watch Magloire passionately assemble and instruct the hoard of security he’s hired to keep the paradegoers safe, I see that this coach is always coaching. Leading is in his nature. Magloire sees symmetry in his two passions.

“Obviously, basketball is number one but this is close to that as well,” he says. “My parents were born in Trinidad and Tobago and growing up in Toronto I was raised in a household that was very strong culturally. Having a Mas band is just an extension of that. It’s an unorthodox way, but it’s my way of giving back to the community that has given so much to me over the years.”

Magloire spent most of his basketball career abroad in the NCAA or NBA, but always felt the love from Canada. So much so that his Caribana contribution is his way of giving back for the support.

“When I had bad games, they’d call me on the phone,” Magloire says. “I remember times in the NBA where I may not even play for four or five games and still get calls of support. When I came back to play against Toronto when I was on opposing teams just the appreciation and the love is what motivated me to start doing this. It is a way of getting mature people like my parents and integrating them with young people that are going to be our future one day. We all come together for one common cause and we have a good time and promote unity and peace in doing that.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory praises Magloire as he dance’s on the former player’s VIP float.

“It’s not only great to see hallowed members of the community come back, roll up their sleeves and contribute, but in the case of Jamaal, I’m certain he puts up a lot of his own money to put this together,” Tory says.

Not only using his financial reach, Magloire uses his notoriety and the MLSE infrastructure to broker relationships to bring aboard sponsors like Tim Hortons and Pizza Pizza to feed all of his band members and volunteers free of charge.

The main motivation for Magloire is continuing the mores and values of his West Indian ancestry that may get lost abroad here in Canada. He’s determined to see those ideals passed down.

“I want my son to know that his grandparents and great grandparents were from Trinidad and Tobago and make sure that it is not going to be forgotten,” Magloire says.

There is a debate how much cultural festivals like Caribana and the Pride Parade matter in 2017 when Canadian society is more integrated than it’s ever been. According to Magloire, these displays of public inclusivity are more important than ever,

“Seems like in Canada our summers are getting shorter and shorter and we only have so many chances to get together in this way,” he says. “There are other festivals in the summer that promote the same values and we need to embrace each and every one of them. This is Ontario. We are made up of so many different people and this is our way of expressing ourselves.”

The endeavour is not just for partying, but also philanthropy.

In conjunction with the Caribana festivities, Magloire puts on two charity events to raise funds while having fun.

“My objective is trying to get youth scholarships to college, whether it is in the (United) States or in Canada,” he says. “They don’t have to be athletically gifted to do so. Even though I got an athletic scholarship, we endorse people who have proven their work in the classroom.

“I’m looking forward to helping and changing young people’s lives with the opportunity I had post-secondary.”

The first step in changing lives is giving minorities and West Indian kids a chance to assimilate while feeling proud of their heritage.

“The best part is when I see the masqueraders take out their camera phones and take pictures with big smiles and then going online on Instagram and seeing them share them and comment with their friends,” Magloire says. “That’s the reason why I do it. Yes, it is to enhance the culture, but it is also to put smiles on people’s faces while doing it. Every year the band continues to get bigger and I’m very happy about that.”

Soon his reputation as the “Big Cat” on the basketball court will be superseded by the moniker the “Big Carnival” on the road.

And Magloire is just fine with that.