The Toronto Raptors franchise is struggling and they know, they know, they know. They also started from the bottom and they’re still trying to get out. Well, hip-hop musician and Toronto born entertainer, Drake, knows a thing or two about getting “there” so he’s decided to give the Raptor franchise a hand (plenty more corny Drake references to follow).
Earlier in the year it was announced that “Drizzy” Drake would serve as a global ambassador, team consultant, and business partner for the Raptor franchise leading up to the 2016 All-Star Game which is being held in T.O. The hope is that Drake will be able to yield his popularity with the younger generation to help re-energize some sort of excitement and popularity for the Raptor franchise. That type of excitement has escaped the franchise since Vince Carter jumped shipped nearly a decade ago.
Yet, the Drake partnership is a part of a larger development at hand. The Raptors are trying to re-brand and create an excitement, not just for the fans, but more importantly for the players. Toronto has never been a “hot spot” for unrestricted free agents, commonly being denounced for its higher tax deductions, cold weather, and lack of media exposure by players around the league. The result has almost always been that the Raps’ hand has been forced, resulting in the franchise overpaying to compensate for the stigmas attached with playing in Toronto.
So how would Drake change any of that? Well, he wouldn’t really. But the hope is that he would be able to mitigate the importance of these factors for potential free agents while also selling Toronto as the beautiful city that it is. Without question, even with its recent influx of international players, the NBA remains an urban and hip-hop centered sporting league. Drake is known within the league as well as respected and embraced by many high profile name players. His verses and lyrics are commonly recited on players’ twitter pages, and he has frequently been seen fraternizing with different players at various social outings. In fact, following the Miami Heat‘s 2013 championship, Drake was seen on camera partying with the Heat in the South Beach club scene. It is exactly this type of camaraderie with high profile players and teams that has the Raptor franchise excited. Essentially, Drake could serve as an informal and friendly point of contact for potential free agents, convincing players of the many merits Toronto has to offer.
It may seem like a long shot but YOLO! (just joking, I had to say that at least once in this piece). It may seem like a long shot, but there certainly is precedence for this type of celebrity recruiting approach. Just recently, rap mogul and hip-hop legend Jay-Z was actively involved in the recruiting pitches for the Brooklyn Nets franchise. Having one of the most renowned rappers of all time certainly couldn’t have hurt the Nets’ chances in free agency. Years before, just over in Ohio, R & B sensation Usher was a large stake owner in the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise during the LeBron James era. It was said that Usher tried to use his celebrity status to lure players to the Cavs in the same manner as Jay-Z did for the Nets (although clearly unsuccessfully). So while there is precedence to this type of approach, the results and success certainly have varied.
Drake is not the answer to the Raptors’ free agent signing woes, nor should he be expected to be. Anyone with any sense of rationality knows that. He is a supplementary tool to the free agent signing process. It’s clear that the answer is the players, the coach, and the team. The answer is Masai Ujiiri putting together a respectable squad that can contend that other players around the league will become excited to hear about potentially competing with. The answer is winning, and when that winning begins to reveal itself free agents will no longer just glance over the Raptors as a potential suitor. The product on the court will speak for itself and players will come. But until then, keep on partying and making some bangers, Drizzy; Raptor nation sadly might need them for a while.