Raptors had a refreshingly positive offseason in a league that did not
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets. Ime Udoka with the Boston Celtics. Robert Sarver with the Phoenix Suns. Miles Bridges with the Charlotte Hornets. The list of NBA offseason dramas is long and tumultuous, sprouting up around the league like bad seeds turned to saplings.
Looking at the long list, it’s no wonder we have spent the offseason debating the repercussions of these dramas, with fans wondering how they will affect their favourite teams. For instance, how will the Nets perform amidst Durant’s request to either trade him or fire the GM and head coach? How will the Celtics fare under a rookie head coach after Ukoda — who led them to the Finals last season and was fourth in Coach of the Year Award voting — was suspended for at least a year following a violation of Boston’s code of conduct by engaging in an improper relationship with a female staffer?
How will the Suns start the season with Sarver still at the helm following an investigation that revealed he fostered a racist and sexist workplace, and which shady billionaire will own the team next? And how will the Hornets handle losing their second-best player for at least a season and the deserved backlash of tendering him a qualifying offer despite significant allegations of domestic violence against him?
On one hand, these questions are rhetorical and unanswerable — only time will tell. And on the other hand, we have been down this road many times before.
North American professional sports are ripe with internal drama and problems that become public in the modern world, including ones that cross legal boundaries, and fans have gotten excellent at compartmentalizing the various good and bad aspects that come with rooting for a professional sports team, successfully able to cheer on their squad while acknowledging the bad actors that they are cheering for.
That’s even more true in the NBA where, like society at large and the algorithms that guide us, the attention and discourse is increasingly turning towards the dramatic and the unsavory. We spend large amounts of time focusing on these bad actors and debating the repercussions of their actions instead of focusing on the games and, more to the point, the positives of the league we all love so dearly.
Sports are supposed to be fun and teams are supposed to be easy to root for, and while that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do around the NBA, it’s easier than ever to do in Toronto.
In contrast with much of the NBA, the news around the Raptors this offseason has been refreshingly positive. The only thing that the Raptors have gone viral for — aside from all the players appearing in Vegas and Los Angeles to practice and scrimmage together in Rico Hines runs — is the social work the players and the organization have done in their communities. And deservedly so.
From hosting basketball camps for youth who are dropping out of sports at alarming rates to providing scholarships for underprivileged and BIPOC children to building infrastructure for the next generation of kids to have a place to play, the Raptors have used this offseason to show that they genuinely care about giving back — about spending the time to use their platforms and resources to help others instead of just focusing on themselves. As we have seen around the NBA, that’s no easy feat.
“I give the players credit. They really deserve the most credit here because they commit themselves to their own personal development whether that’s basketball or whether it’s off the court. They challenge themselves in everything they do and when I look at what they have all done this summer – there’s still a lot of work to be done in-season — but I’m super proud of the work everybody in the organization has put in,” Raptors vice chairman and president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said at Media Day on Monday.
After Fred VanVleet announced his scholarship midway through last season, providing tuition and mentorship for a Black or Indigenous student at the University of Toronto’s Rotman Commerce program, two of his teammates followed suit this offseason.
Siakam and his PS43 Foundation Canada announced a significant donation to the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto Metropolitan University, giving law students in Toronto a chance to engage with frontline organizations working with low-income individuals and families facing barriers to legal services.
“It's been heartening to see organizations and individuals like Mr. Siakam step forward in support of our mission to reimagine legal education in pursuit of a more just society,” Donna E. Young, Founding Dean of the school, tells Yahoo Sports. “Like our namesake, the Honourable Lincoln Alexander, who believed in the power of education to transform lives, Mr. Siakam too is a trailblazer. His leadership and generosity is inspiring our students and the next generation to consider how they can create meaningful and lasting change in our communities.”
Meanwhile, Scottie Barnes teamed up with Skilled Trades College of Canada (STC) to launch the "Scottie Barnes Scholarship" for BIPOC students across Canada, which will allow students to become an apprentice in their trade of choice, as well as cover their tuition and all learning materials the students might need. Barnes and STC plan to award four scholarships for each of the next three years, worth $250,000.
“To be able to give back to the community in some way possible, I felt like that was one of the main things that really went into that deal was to try to give back to the community. I feel like it's important to be able to do other things in life. And I find that's a very great thing to be able to do,” Barnes said. “We need those people that are gonna be able to build houses and put things together. So that was an important thing.”
Meanwhile, Precious Achiuwa went back to his native Port Harcourt, Nigeria to host a basketball camp for kids. Dalano Banton did something similar in his hometown of Toronto, hosting the “Dalano Banton Skills Academy” clinic at the Rexdale Community Hub, where he learned the game. And OG Anunoby helped out at a camp in his native London, England and joined 2021 Raptors deadline acquisition and NBA veteran Thad Young at his camp in Memphis, Tennessee, where Anunoby was once a camper not too long ago.
“Off the court, [I was] just doing kids camps, being around, helping kids out, teaching them fundamentals. It's fun for me, so I like doing that,” Anunoby said.
“He's great. I mean, he's a perfect role model for kids, one of those guys that's gonna come to work every day. But you know, also speak the realness to kids and tell them about his story, how his journey was and how he was looked over.” Young said about Anunoby. “And now he's having all the success in the world, so always great to bring him back to the program he once played for.”
Barnes is 21 years old. Banton is 22. Achiuwa is 23. Anunoby is 25. They have every excuse to spend their summers partying or relaxing or simply thinking about themselves — I know I did at that age. Plus, they are rich athletes with all the excuses and resources in the world to fall into the dangerous vices that come with young-adult celebrity and fame. Instead, they did meaningful work in their communities because that’s the kind of people they are and because the Raptors provided them with the resources to execute on their visions.
“It’s a commitment, its culture, it’s how we grow. We see the amount of time they spent in L.A. or when they are playing pickup basketball, or Fred or Pascal being committed to their communities, or OG and Precious going back and doing basketball camps in Africa. These are meaningful things that make a difference and it keeps them busy and it keeps them occupied with things that are joyful to them,” Ujiri says.
The Raptors also inspire by doing work of their own. In August, they hosted their first inaugural Youth Summit, bringing together 100 youths and several important civic leaders in order to learn about what Canadian youth want out of their leaders. Throughout the summer, the Raptors had a visible presence at the March Against Gun Violence, the Pride festival in Toronto, and at the Toronto Carnival Festival.
In September, they announced that they built two brand new basketball courts in London, ON following the islamophobic truck attack in 2021, giving the Muslim community a place to come together and play. This should come as no surprise given that the Raptors leader, Ujiri, and his non-profit, Giants of Africa, is responsible for building 20 courts and counting in his native continent of Africa, with the goal of eventually building 100 courts.
“I think for us, we wanted to lead by example, given the racial reckoning in 2020, and we've continued to do that. It's a focus of my team and the focus of our guys to kind of not let the issues [go away]; To remain consistent in the community and understanding this summer was the first time we were back home in Canada without restrictions. So yeah, you saw a lot of things coming out of us, but that's always been our core value. It's always been a part of who we are,” John Wiggins, Vice President of Organizational Culture and Inclusion for the Raptors, told Yahoo Sports Canada.
“It is very important… I think what you do is you build that credibility, and you build that consistency on: here's who we really are and here's the actions that we take with intention to really show that we're trying to make a difference in this world. And I think we're just going to continue to lead with our actions.”
As our society is increasingly drawn towards outrage through the news we watch and the algorithms that guide us, it’s our responsibility to seek out and celebrate the positives; it's our job to give the leaders and role models who are doing good in our communities the love and admiration they deserve in order to encourage them to continue — especially when it’s not just lip service and empty gestures but actually comes from the heart.
Amidst a tumultuous NBA offseason, the Raptors and their players did a lot of good. It’s time we celebrated that.
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