Fans of the Toronto Raptors and Chris Bosh, the former star of the team, have been on a collision course since the National Basketball Association’s schedule was released two months ago.
Ever since Bosh announced he was signing with the Miami Heat, fans have been chomping at the bit to heckle and jeer him when he returns to Toronto. The wait is finally over, as Bosh’s Miami Heat will be at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
“I’m on another team,’’ he said to the Toronto Sun on Tuesday. “I would like it (to be liked) because that’s like a fairy tale ending or beginning, but that might not be the case.
“I’ll be ready for anything.”
Bosh can hope all he want, but he is going to be booed and heckled every time he steps in Toronto for the rest of his career. He will be subjected to as much vitriol as Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady are even though they’re years removed from their time on the Raptors.
Sadly, Bosh will probably never understand why he’s now the target of so much scorn in Toronto.
Ironically, the reason for the hatred is the same reason why he left: he doesn’t understand the character of the city.
He doesn’t understand that, ultimately, Toronto is a conservative place.
I don’t mean conservative in the modern, Glenn Beck, Republican sense, but the classical, small-c libertarian way, with an emphasis on individuality, entrepreneurship and, above all else, work ethic.
Founded by Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793, the city historically stood in contrast to its Gallic cousin to the east, Montreal.
Largely inhabited by Protestants of British decent until the 1950s, Toronto’s early civic life focused on being loyal citizens to the crown, devoted members of their church and especially constructive members of the business world.
Those three characteristics earned Toronto nicknames likes “the Queen City” and “Toronto the Good”. Jokes about being able to shoot a cannon down Yonge Street on a Saturday night without hitting anyone were common. It was a staid, serious place.
Over time, monarchism and religiousness have faded and Toronto has become a more cosmopolitan, multicultural place with a vibrant nightlife. But that dedication to working hard and getting things done has remained at the core of the city.
The serious, stoic demeanour of Torontonians is often interpreted amongst other Canadians, perhaps fairly, as aloofness or even arrogance. There’s a coldness to how people carry themselves in Toronto, although defenders of the city would probably call it “walking with purpose”.
That indifference translates to the business world: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, as long as you put your nose to the grindstone and work hard, there’s a place for you in Toronto.
It’s that businesslike attitude has made Toronto the most multicultural city on Earth. It’s what makes Ontario’s capital the home of North America’s oldest continuously running Orangeman’s parade, but also allows Toronto to host one of the world’s largest LGBT Pride festivals every summer – the two seemingly contradictory events are held just weeks apart.
That spirit of efficiency and industriousness is what inspired Peter Ustinov to say “Toronto is New York run by the Swiss.”
Toronto’s workmanlike approach to, well, everything, has influenced the city’s sporting culture as well.
Like most things in Toronto’s sporting history it all starts with Conn Smythe.
The founder and long-time owner of the Maple Leafs favoured players who played a tough, relentless style of hockey. His motto of “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley you won’t beat them on the ice” shaped the identity of the franchise, and set it apart from the free-wheeling finesse play of the rival Montreal Canadiens.
Smythe also set the tone for fan behaviour in Toronto, enforcing a strict dress code for fans at Leafs games. There’s a famous story that a wealthy couple rewarded their maid with their seasons tickets for the night. The morning after the game Smythe called the couple’s home, threatening to revoke their passes if anyone in their seats wasn’t wearing a shirt and tie or a proper Sunday dress, because the maid and her date hadn’t met Smythe’s high standards.
As a result, Torontonians have little interest in flashy athletes or raucous crowd behaviour. They want to quietly cheer on their teams and reward the players who work the hardest, not necessarily the ones with the best numbers.
Take the current roster of the Blue Jays as an example.
The most enduringly popular baseball player in Toronto this past decade is utility infielder John McDonald, despite his career .239 batting average.
I promise you that when the team’s line up is announced on opening day this spring the crowd reaction for perennial bench warmer McDonald will rival that of reigning home run king Jose Bautista.
Why? Because when McDonald does play, he puts his heart out on the field. A terrible batter, the 36-year-old veteran has won the love of Jays fans by never quitting on a play, and happily volunteering to do whatever the team needs him to do, including pitch relief or help out as the bullpen catcher.
Similarly, the Leafs have had a lengthy list of players renowned for their intensely physical style of play that has earned them the adoration of fans, even though their offensive numbers are far inferior to their contemporaries.
Players like Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour will forever be deified in Toronto not for any goals they scored or any particularly outstanding play, but for the way they punished anyone who dared step on the ice against the Leafs.
Even when a truly gifted and talented player suits up for a Toronto franchise, it takes that same kind of hard-working, detail-oriented approach to win the fans’ devotion. Fortunately for sports fans in the city, the two best players to play in Toronto in the past 20 years are Roy Halladay and Mats Sundin, the quietest and most stoic athletes you can imagine.
This brings us to the Raptors and why poor Bosh is going to have hate, and possibly garbage, poured on him at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
It has little to do with loyalty – after all, both Halladay and Sundin left Toronto for greener pastures and they’re still beloved – and everything to do with how he left.
Whether they can articulate it or not, Torontonians are incensed by Bosh’s apparent rejection of their values.
Like Vince Carter before him, Bosh has left the Raptors to seek fame and fortune, to be flashy and find the spotlight of endorsement deals and American media attention. He left the cold, hard streets of Toronto for the glitzy nightlife of South Beach.
Worse yet, Bosh spent his last games with the Raptors sitting on the bench, nursing an injury. That is a cardinal sin to Torontonians: he was lazy.
Torontonians can understand, even appreciate, Halladay and Sundin leaving to win championships with better clubs - being rewarded for your hard work makes perfect sense to the city. But leaving for nightclubs and the easy life of sunny Florida? That is anathema.
It’s a shame, too. Bosh had showed so much promise when he was first drafted by the Raptors. Feature stories and interviews with the young rookie talked about how much work he was planning on doing in the off season. He openly discussed how he had to consume thousands of calories a day to bulk up for the more physical play of the NBA. Bosh liked to read. He was a computer science major in university.
In other words, he was perfect for Toronto.
Particularly after the disaster that was Carter’s time with the Raptors.
After all, Carter was a flashy style-over-substance player who briefly won the hearts of Raptors fans with the franchise’s deepest playoff run to date, only to blow it all by going to his university’s graduation ceremony instead of – that’s right – focussing on the task at hand and giving 100% to his team.
But slowly, the love affair between Bosh and Toronto soured. His charming videos of him working out became more self-aggrandizing and egocentric. It was less about industry and more about creating a brand.
Bosh had the negative example of Carter to try and avoid, but was also surrounded by positive role models like Matt Bonner, Jerome Williams, Morris Peterson and Jose Calderon. They’re all players who aren’t nearly as talented as Bosh, but who work hard on and off the court and were rewarded with the love and appreciation of the fans.
Instead, Bosh has opted to make a cameo on Entourage, film navel-gazing documentaries on getting his first tattoo and make over-the-top appearances with James and Dwyane Wade announcing how many championships they’re going to win with the Heat.
Bosh left because he felt like Toronto wasn't the place for him to reach the level, not just on the court, but off of it. He was right. It's no place for someone seeking fame, because they'll never find it here. The city spurns superstars.
Raptors fans, the supporters of any sports team in this city, will always favour the quiet, hard-working bench warmer over the flashy star with all the merchandise. Bosh's vision just couldn't line up with what the city demands of its sports heroes. That's not his fault, or Toronto's, it's just the way it's meant to be.
Unfortunately for Bosh, all this adds up to one thing: Toronto is going to show him no mercy. Not necessarily because he betrayed the city’s trust or because he is a bad player or because Raptors fans are particularly spiteful, but because he’s turned his back on the values the city holds most dear. Effort. Hustle. Hard work.
Chris Bosh is going to be booed tonight and for the rest of his career because he rejected the core value that governs behaviour in Toronto. He unknowingly struck at the city’s core principle, and Raptors fans will be unable to forgive him for that.
Yes, that’s right, my week in junior hockey, not weekend.
Last week I grappled with a full slate of Canadian Hockey League madness as I helped cover the Top Prospects game, junior hockey’s annual showcase of the best draft-eligible talent, for the Canadian Press in addition to my regular duties.
It all started on Monday night when I went to the teams’ practices and interviewed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, currently ranked third amongst North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department.
I was really pleased with my finished profile. “Nugent-Hopkins focused on improving his game” illustrated how impressively modest and grounded this young play-making centre is.
“It’s been an eventful week for Red Deer Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Just six days ago Nugent-Hopkins was ranked third among draft-eligible North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department. Days later, he was named captain of Team Orr for the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects game Wednesday night.
The six-foot centre is keeping it all in perspective though and remains humble about the two achievements.” Read the rest at Yahoo! Sports Canada.
On Tuesday morning I went to watch the Next Testing combine where the skaters for the Top Prospects games were put through their paces to measure and compare their skating ability through a series of drills. I didn’t have a piece to work on, I just wanted to see what it was all about and get to take in some of the best young players in the game in person.
I was most impressed with two players during the combine: Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks.
Catenacci blew me away with his speed. I didn’t have a stopwatch or anything with me, but it was clear that he was by far the fastest player on the ice that morning.
Bartschi’s seemingly effortless strides really struck me. He could keep pace with most of his competition, often peeling away from most of them, apparently without breaking a sweat. Incredible.
Wednesday was the main event. I joined my CP colleague Shi Davidi at the Air Canada Centre. He did the game story for wide release while I was responsible for the game’s sidebar and producing the agate file for paginators across Canada.
The morning was spent doing media scrums around head coaches Don Cherry and Doug Gilmour as well as Gilmour’s assistant Wendel Clark.
It was during these free-for-alls that Cherry spoke out about the lack of respect amongst players in the NHL, leading to disastrous head shots like David Steckel’s blindside of Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic. Of course, it was a hot news item for most of the day, with Shi and I at the centre of the maelstrom.
For my sidebar I wound up doing a notebook on four of the smaller stories within the game that was only distributed to print outlets, including this bit on Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s:
“It was the most unheralded player at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game game that made the biggest impact for Team Cherry on Wednesday night
Left-winger Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67's was the only member on head coach Don Cherry's squad to score in the 7-1 drubbing handed out by Doug Gilmour's Team Orr.
After Team Orr jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead by the game's midway point, Prince put Team Cherry on the board. Although it was his team's only goal of the game, the 18-year-old from Spencerport, N.Y., was glad to make a difference.
‘It's a good feeling,’ Prince said after the game. ‘It doesn't say everything about a player but it’s definitely nice to get a goal.’
When the two rosters of draft-eligible prospects were originally drawn up, Prince was left out despite being second in the Ontario Hockey League's scoring race with 21 goals and 55 assists, three points behind his 67's linemate Tyler Toffoli, who has 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points.
It took a nagging injury to Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers – currently ranked first amongst North American skaters by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting – to make space for Prince on Team Cherry.
Prince is ranked 35th.
‘I completely believe in fate,’ Prince said. ‘It was definitely fate for me to be here. When I got the news I was very excited.
‘It's an experience I'll never forget.’”
All in all, it was a very busy but productive week. Lots of fun and a great learning experience for me as a journalist. Best of all, I got to see my name in print as I helped break some news, easily the biggest thrill for a reporter.
Friday Jan. 21st 2011
QMJHL: TIGRES NEED SIX ROUNDS TO DOWN HALIFAX IN SHOOTOUT
It took six rounds in the shootout, but the Victoriaville Tigres earned the win on Friday night.
Goaltender David Honzik turned aside three of the six shooters he faced and made 29 saves in regular play as the Tigres out-lasted the Halifax Mooseheads 5-4 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: MRAZEK, 67'S BLANK SPIRIT
Petr Mrazek stopped all 36 shots he faced and rookie Sean Monahan scored one goal and set up another Friday as the Ottawa 67's put an end to a three-game slide with a 3-0 victory over the Saginaw Spirit in Ontario Hockey League action.
The shutout was Mrazek's third of the OHL season and sixth of his career. It came after he gave up six goals in each of Ottawa's season-high three consecutive defeats last weekend.
WHL: SEGAL EARNS FOURTH SHUTOUT OF YEAR, GIANTS BLANK COUGARS
Mark Segal made 30 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the year to lead the Vancouver Giants to a 3-0 victory over the Prince George Cougars in Western Hockey League action Friday night.
Darren Bestland, Matt Bellerive and Nathan Burns scored for the Giants (23-19-5), while Spencer Bennett recorded an assist to extend his point streak to 10 consecutive games in a Vancouver uniform.
Saturday Jan. 22nd 2011
QMJHL; TITAN SCORE FIVE UNANSWERED TO BEAT MAINEIACS
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan kept their hot streak alive with some clutch play on Saturday night.
Sebastien Trudeau's game-winning goal was one of five unanswered scores as the Titan rallied to a 6-3 victory against the Lewiston Maineiacs Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: ICEDOGS KEEP LEAGUE'S TOP HOME RECORD WITH WIN
The Hamilton brothers and Ryan Strome insured the Niagara IceDogs continued their home-ice domination Saturday.
Niagara maintained the Ontario Hockey League's top home record with a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout victory over the Sudbury Wolves.
WHL: BRAES SCORES OVERTIME WINNER AS HURRICANES TOP PATS
Cam Braes scored a goal, an assist and the overtime winner to lead the Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League Saturday night.
Landon Oslanski also had a three point night for the Hurricanes (16-22-9) with a goal and two assists.
Sunday Jan. 23rd 2011
QMJHL: SEA DOGS DOUBLE UP RIVAL REMPARTS
The Saint John Sea Dogs dealt a blow to their closest Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival on Sunday afternoon.
Zack Phillips' power-play goal with seven seconds left in the second period stood as the winner in Saint John's 4-2 triumph over the Quebec Remparts.
OHL: STORM RALLY LATE IN THIRD TO STUN 67'S
Taylor Beck and Cody McNaughton scored 20 seconds apart in the final minute of the third period to lift the Guelph Storm to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Ottawa 67's in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday.
The Storm (21-19-5) trailed 3-1 heading into the third period before Beck scored during a 5-on-3 power play to cut the lead to one.