SAN FRANCISCO — He once was a Warrior.
You can look it up. Chris Boucher was a member of the Golden State Warriors organization, sharing the same uniform and the same facilities as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green.
His time there was brief. He appeared in one game: March 14th, 2018, for 79 seconds. He attempted one field goal and scored.
And then three weeks after the Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games to claim their third NBA title in four years, Boucher was waived, put on a flight home, his NBA future in serious doubt.
It all could have ended there. The Toronto Raptors forward’s journey is amazing not only because of when, where, and how it began — he was essentially homeless in Montreal as a teenager, and only took up organized basketball for the first time as a 19-year-old — but also because of how many times it nearly ended after it started: undrafted players with funky games that get waived after one season on a two-way contract in part for having an attitude problem don’t often get a second chance. Not when they’re already 25 years old.
Boucher did — he got a Summer League spot with the Raptors in 2018, earned a two-way contract out of training camp and earned an NBA deal on the strength of winning the G-League MVP and G-League defensive player of the year award in 2018-19 — and he’s turned it into a career.
He chose to share some of the more personal elements of his story — the traumatic experiences growing up, how his reaction to them held him back and how he used personal therapy and meditation to learn how to evolve and reach his potential – in a documentary that aired Wednesday and is available to stream now.
Which makes the Raptors’ game against the Warriors on Friday night a bit of a full-circle moment, where Boucher, a 30-year-old with five NBA seasons under his belt, can reflect on the version of himself who struggled in the Warriors’ G-league program, was a handful to coach and nearly cost himself a career before it started.
“I’m a lot older, I say that. I think I take things a lot differently than I used to,” he said after the Raptors’ practice in downtown San Francisco. “[I’m] less emotional, sensitive and [can] take criticism and not thinking that it’s all about me and everybody’s pointing fingers at me and all that. More able to see my mistakes and being able to fix them by myself, trying to be a better player every time I step on the floor.”
It’s that progress that gave the Raptors confidence to sign Boucher to a three-year contract for $35 million last summer and helped him to manage some of the highs and lows both he and the team have had to navigate this season.
Both Boucher and the team are coming off a high following Toronto’s thorough win over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, kicking off a seven-game road swing that will likely define the Raptors season. The Raptors — defensively challenged for most of the year — held the Kings to 95 points, the season-low for the NBA’s highest-octane attack, and 25 points below Sacramento’s average.
Boucher was instrumental, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds and three blocked shots in 23 minutes off the bench against Sacramento. Combined with Precious Achiuwa rounding into form following his injury — the pair have combined for 61 points and 29 rebounds on 67 per cent shooting in their last two games, both Raptors wins — and Toronto suddenly has a punch off the bench that has been missing too often this season.
The Warriors — even the version that has bumbled along at .500 in defence of their 2022 championship — remain a formidable test and the Raptors (22-27) will need to be sharp if they hope to extend their winning streak to three games and keep their hopes for second-half surge to a playoff spot within view.
“There’s a lot of similarities [to the Kings] with the speed, the firepower from behind the line, the threes going up really at any time, from anywhere, I think I think there’s a lot of similarities there,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “But [the Warriors’] layups cuts, dunks, passes, assists, all those are really high and super-high percentage shots. So there’s a lot of speed to deal with up the floor, and then the pace in the half court. “
If the Raptors are going to make a run, the kind of contributions Boucher is able to make at his best — his ability to find offence in cracks and creases, the way his speed can alter the tempo of a game and his knack for keeping possessions alive on offence or coming up with blocks and deflections on defence – will doubtless have to be part of it. Boucher hasn’t been as consistent in his performance this year — though good luck separating whether that’s due to him or due to the inconsistencies of the Raptors as a whole — but he’s been consistent in his approach andhis routines.
His sprint off the bench and up to the scorers’ table when he gets called to sub into games and his sprint to the floor are just small examples of habits he’s nurtured as he’s fine-tuned what it takes for him to be at his best.
“I think it’s I think it’s a step in the right direction or whatever, for being a pro. Right?” said Nurse. “Learning how to get yourself ready to play each and every minute is not that easy to figure out and it’s an individual thing and I think he’s figured it out. For the most part.
“He’s like everybody else. He has his ups and downs. He has some games where he doesn’t, you know, just things don’t click for him or whatever. But I’d say more often than not, he sprints up to the scorer’s table, he sprints in the game, as my high-school coach used to say: he’s a guy that makes a lot of things happen — not always good, but he’s making a lot of things happen, and that’s OK.”
They’re all lessons Boucher has learned along his unlikely journey and in his documentary he shares the challenges he had with his mental health and steps he’s taken to improve it. He hopes he can help someone by sharing his experiences.
“It was more to be an inspiration for everybody, just talking more than basketball, more what you go through in your mind, what you can go through in any sport, any career. Injuries and all, it was more for that,” he said of his motivation for making the film.
He’s not the same person he was as a Warrior, but remains someone who has to battle.
“You go through a career, there’s ups and downs and when those downs are coming, you got to find ways to free your mind and be able to come back to the person that you are and the player that you could be,” Boucher said. “Those are when meditation came up and it helped me out, cleared up my mind thinking about the past. Sometimes it creeps up and you don’t want to become the same guy that you were before.
“Those are all things that meditation did for me and having a therapist and all that.”
In a different set of circumstances there’s a possibility that Boucher would be on his homecourt at Chase Center, getting ready to host the Raptors, Canada’s team. However, he wasn’t ready for success when he was here. He was able to make the most of a second chancebefore it slipped through his fingers in Toronto.
Having come through the challenges presented by immigration, poverty, homelessness, injury, and his own stubborn nature — a benefit and a curse at moments over his career — Boucher can appreciate his journey more clearly than ever before.
“Who knows, maybe I never would have learned what I learned coming to the Raptors,” Boucher said of his time with Warriors. “I can’t say that. I do know that obviously being away from the Warriors definitely helped me [learn] how to be a professional and all the things I had to do just to stay in the league. You can be out the league so fast. One day, I was on a first-class ticket back home so … [I’m] just be grateful of every situation that happens.”