Sunday, December 15, 2013

Northern Exposure: Canada Basketball on the Rise

by Mike Masaya

There is no denying a lot has changed since 2011 for Canadians and their relationship with the NBA and basketball in general. After years of cringing international performances two-time MVP, future Hall of Fame inductee and British Columbia native Steve Nash was named GM of the national senior men’s basketball team. Several weeks later Tristan Thompson from Brampton, Ontario one-upped Steve Nash by becoming the highest ever drafted Canadian born player with the 4th overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
One year later Anthony Bennett would become the lighthouse for future Canadian’s with aspirations of a pro basketball career by becoming the 1st pick overall in the 2013 NBA draft, again made by the Cleveland Cavaliers. That makes Bennett the only Canadian in history to achieve that feat. At this point most would think the good news coming from the great white north was over. What more could they do?
Not wanting to be outdone it would be the Toronto Raptors that would end up having the answer. Two months following the 2013 NBA draft during a press conference in Ontario, Canadian Grammy award winner and international Hip-Hop superstar Drake was proclaimed Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors. While reporters and fans were scratching their heads as to what that meant Drake and Raptors management clarified the role. It’s responsibilities involved the re-branding and marketing of the team and city with a strong focus on attracting star players.
Then the bombshell dropped 24 hours earlier via social media finally hit. The 2016 NBA All-Star game would be held in Ontario, Canada at the Air Canada Center home to the Toronto Raptors. Depending on how many Canadians you have direct contact with personally or on social media, you can imagine the announcement spread like wildfire as another milestone was set in Canada’s basketball history.
With Canucks used to scoring  hat tricks the projected 1st overall NBA draft pick for 2014 Andrew Wiggins hails from Thornhill, Ontario. Local Canadian TV stations have decided to air what appears to be every game Wiggins will play until the end of the NCAA basketball season. Conspiracy talk of teams ‘tanking’ simply to have a chance of acquiring Wiggins’ services were a trending topic on social media to start the NBA season. Wiggins debates will no doubt return from hyperspace to an imperial fleet of media coverage as the season winds down and draft declarations begin.
From Nash joining Canada basketball, to historical fourth and possibly two first overall picks, to an All-Star weekend announcement Canadian basketball fans are dancing like no one is watching. The reality however is that everyone is watching. Anthony Bennett has struggled with injury issues and has earned less than ten minutes of playing time in no way helping his situation. Fellow teammate Tristan Thompson however has improved every year since being drafted and is now averaging a double-double in 30 minutes of play with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Andrew Wiggins is living up to expectations in Kansas thus far and should the Raptors land a playoff spot for the first time since 2008, Canada’s bark may finally be as strong as its bite.

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