Continental Dinosaur Breakfast: Why Are The Raptors So Eurocentric? by Chris Burt

It is out there, somewhere in the digital ephemera, I am sure. The actual quote from Toronto Raptors President and sometimes General Manager Brian Colangelo about attracting ‘international’ players to our cosmopolitan, multi-cultural city must be out there, but the best the internet wants to give me is this. There is a reference, I'm sure, and it was made immediately before the Raps, in fairly rapid succession, hired an Italian to be assistant general manager, drafted another Italian first overall (making him the highest ever ‘international’ draft pick), added a Spanish free agent, and traded for a Slovenian. That reference and the subsequent moves demonstrate an approach to building the team based on ‘international’ — meaning European — players.

Why? During the 2006 off-season, the Raptors thought they had an agreement with American free agent swingman John Salmons, who ultimately declined to put pen to paper and play here, citing divine advice. He signed with Sacramento instead. Notwithstanding that the Lord is unequivocally not a fan of either Sacramento or its basketball team, the incident did point to the problem which inspired the Raptors to take their Eurocentric tack in the first place.

Public opinion, of the type a regretful Salmons tried to gloss over by attributing it to the Holy Trinity, is the issue. When the franchise's only superstar — Chris Bosh — left, he admitted that he was at first reticent about playing for a city in a whole other country, before learning to appreciate it. The ignorance and confusion of many Americans regarding Toronto is expressed in this poorly written blast of nonsense, which discusses the Raptors Eurocentricity from the perspective of a person who’s never been outside of their own neighborhood. If basketball players have attitudes like NBA fans — and the above NBA fan represents more than a few — then it stands to reason that the Raptors would have trouble recruiting players and tying them to the organization, and by extension Toronto.

The equivalent to the Salmons incident came in an irony-laced sequel the following season. Turkish swingman Hedo Turkoglu backed out of a near-agreement with the Portland Trailblazers to come to Toronto due to spousal advice, which at least is a real thing. Hedo was ineffectual and ineffective, alienating Raptors fans and tossing gasoline on the ‘too many white guys’ brush fires of public opinion.

As of the 2006 census, almost 200,000 Torontonians could speak Italian, but less than 11,000 could speak Turkoglu’s native Turkish. In fact, looking at demographics of NBA cities and the basketball traditions of Europe, Chicago, which apparently has more Serbs than anywhere else in the world outside Serbia, would seem to have a natural advantage in this regard. But as it turns out, none of the terrific Serb NBA players have played for the Bulls.

Have they thought of this in Chicago? Of course not! Chicago’s awesomeness is not dependent on how many people speak Serbian. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, but you want to play pro hoops there because it’s freaking Chicago. (I mean, it’s not cool like Toronto, with its top-notch sushi, klan-less history and relaxed marijuana laws, but, uh . . . what were we talking about? Attracting and retaining players, right.) Is the whole thing about civic insecurity? Maybe an Italian and an American aren’t the best people to sell this Canadian city. But with Toronto resigning the aforementioned Italian assistant GM and drafting a European player shortly after resigning Colangelo, the Euro-ratio is being maintained, for now.

So we wonder: Does this approach give us a better chance at having basketball players who feel connected to the city, and want to commit to playing and living here? If it does this, does it do so at the expense of further warping American players’ perceptions of our profoundly North American (read, more American than European) city? If we answer no to the first question or yes to the second, than the current approach must be abandoned, like a Lada, with nary a look back into the ditch where it stopped.

Plus, you know; too many white guys.


Photo: Toronto Raptors President and sometimes General Manager Brian Colangelo

Chris Burt is a freelance writer who writes about sports at, Toronto parenting at and whatever. You can follow him on Twitter: @AFakeChrisBurt.


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