When Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri signed free agent Tyler Hansbrough in the offseason, he must have known he was acquiring a potential future fan favorite for the franchise.
The hockey crazed city of Toronto has always fallen in love with hardworking basketball players who give it their all on the court, night in and night out. Few players fit that description better than Hansbrough.
Former Raptors Jerome Williams and Matt Bonner still return to the city and receive standing ovations when shown on the big screen at the Air Canada Centre. The Junk Yard Dog and the Red Rocket were loved for their endless hustle, high compete level and selfless play on the court. Sure, neither player would be confused as a potential All-Star player, but that didn’t stop Raptor fans from treating them like All-Stars with the way the two players were cheered each and every night they stepped onto the court.
Raptor fans are a different breed when it comes to cheering on their favorite players. Talent isn’t the top priority for fans, it’s how hard the player competes on the court. A player could go pointless in a game, but if he plays his tail off nobody will receive louder cheers. It’s why Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas have quickly earned a following due to their hardworking style of play despite not always having the strongest offensive showings.
With Hansbrough’s addition to the roster the Raptors have acquired a player known for getting underneath the skin of opponents, something those in Toronto know all too well. After all, it was only last season when Raptor fans were cursing Hansbrough’s name after a hard foul he delivered to Valanciunas during a game against the Indiana Pacers.
Valanciunas had just returned from injury and Hansbrough threw the rookie center to the ground in what many at the time considered to be a dirty play. Now that Hansbrough is wearing the Raptors’ red as opposed to the Pacers’ yellow, fans have changed their opinion on the play and now label it as a good hard foul with Hansbrough’s only intention being to protect the rim.
It’s plays like the one against Valanciunas that will turn Hansbrough into a fan favorite. The former North Carolina Tar Heel isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty or doing the little things needed to win games. He’ll put a player on his behind with a hard foul to send a message letting it be known not to drive the paint and expect an easy two points. He’ll dive for loose balls, take charges and never give up if there’s an opportunity for a rebound.
Just like Williams and Bonner before him, Hansbrough isn’t the most gifted player when it comes to talent. He’ll have the occasional offensive outburst, but Hansbrough will never be called upon to be a scorer for the Raptors; they have DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay for that. Instead, he’ll be at his best when he’s grabbing rebounds and making the opponent work hard with hustling defense.
To sum it up, he’ll basically do everything Andrea Bargnani couldn’t, and if he’s able to accomplish that then the Junk Yard Dog and Red Rocket will have company among the franchise’s all-time fan favorites.