Monday, October 13, 2008


Toronto Raptors 2008-2009

There is a certain energy that begins to unfold before every major event, before every season. The coaches sense it, the players feel it, the fans have waited all summer for it. For now it is time for the players to take the stage. They stroll on to the floor from the locker room, they scrub their sneakers on the hardwood, they refocus on the lights, on their surroundings, then the rim and the backboard. That moment of anticipation has arrived. It is game time.

The scorers, the talkers, the media minions arrange themselves courtside. The announcer welcomes the faithful. Even the referees prepare themselves for the event. NBA referee # 48 Scott Foster visited with Raptor announcer Herbie Kuhn before the game. He placed two game balls on the score’s table. He borrowed a ball point pen and scratched three marks on each ball. The letter “X”. Herbie left one ball on the table, tucked the other beneath his feet.

“Every referee has his or her own way to identify game balls,” he told me. Perhaps a precautionary move to keep the famous Globetrotter shenanigans out of the NBA! Herbie began his professional career when Toronto hosted the 1994 World Championship of Basketball. He has travelled extensively with “Athletes in Action”, and has visited several Prince Edward County Schools with the program. “I love your area,” he told me before the game. “Especially Wellington.” He assisted a most capable rookie announcer Ocean Henry with the starting lineups before the game. Ocean is seven years old.

Chris Bosh led off the game with a sweet roller for two points, then stole the ball and strolled in from centre for an easy dunk. That got the crowd into the game, and broke the ice for the upcoming season. This was the first home game for the Raptors, the beginning of a couple of weeks of exhibition play. I spoke with veteran announcer Jack Armstrong at half time. Jack is a familiar face to most of us as he has been with the Raptors as a television analyst for more than ten years. “It’s great to see the guys back on the court again. It is pre-season, so the expectations are not high. But there is a decent flow to this game.”

The Raptors will rely heavily on veterans, and with their key acquisition in the off season, Jermaine O’Neal. Bosh, Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, and twenty-two year old Andrea Bargnani form the nucleus of the squad. Bargnani is in his third year with the Raps, and played professionally in Italy for three years with Benetton prior to his arrival in Toronto.

Coach Sam Mitchell always reflects carefully when fielding questions from the media after each game. He was pleased with his team’s performance after their first home appearance. “We got some shots when we needed them. I’m not too concerned about our veterans. I want to see our young guys make the plays they have to make in order to improve.” He is careful not to slam any particular player in his report, especially at this time of year. He is excited about having Jermaine with the team. “I just want him to get comfortable with his team mates. He needs to work on his timing a little. He will get his minutes as the season begins.”

He had this to say about Calderon: “I really think he is getting more comfortable every game.” Calderon shared the point guard duties with T. J. Ford last year. Ford ran into injury woes last season, and was part of the package that brought O’Neal to Toronto.

I spoke with Calderon after the game, in my somewhat rusty Spanish. He raised his eyebrows and smiled when I mentioned that I made a mean “paella”, a popular Spanish dish from the Mediterranean area. “Ah, Valencia! Castellon es en el pais cerca de Valencia!” He also indicated that he noticed the large sign in the rafters held by young Spaniards. He said that he appreciated their support. I spoke with one of them after the game.

Celia is a twenty-one year old student in the process of becoming an elementary school teacher. She was near the end of a three week trip to Toronto to improve her English. She also hailed from Valencia, and was thrilled with her first NBA game, and her first chance to see Calderon. Her group also caught a Blue Jays game.

“For me,” she told me, “this was the best. I have always been a Raptor fan, and it was exciting to see Jose play.”

The Raptors have another couple of weeks of practices and exhibition games. They open in Philadelphia against the 76ers, and play their first game Hallowe’en Night at the Air Canada Centre against the Golden State Warriors.

No better time than the present to get those tickets. Arrive early. Watch the warm ups. Enjoy the Raptor experience.

October 13, 2008

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