Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

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Here’s a question: Why don’t more Toronto players stick around?

It’s a valid question to ask. Toronto recently had a big break-up with former franchise player Chris Bosh, who left the Raptors for Miami. His withdrawing interest in the Raptors was visible well before he actually left.

At the time, NBA commenters noted the drawn-out signs. Although he was still playing for Toronto at the time, his online presence said otherwise, changing his location from Toronto to “Everywhere” on his Twitter, and removing his status as Raptors captain from his biography. He left  to his fans, asking if he should stay or go.
 

Bosh adds his name to a list of players who have expressed a desire to play stateside instead of at the ACC, including Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and former franchise player Vince Carter.

Why did they want to leave? Is there something undesirable about playing for Toronto, or is the grass merely greener on the other side?

Bosh was never out and out hostile towards the Raptors’ home city. His last message on the Raptors website to fans was, “Know that this was my toughest decision, mostly because Toronto has been so great to me. I’ve loved every minute here and I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart…”
 

In response to the negative reaction from Toronto fans, he was quoted as saying, “If you move on and make a business decision, you move on. It’s no bigger or no smaller. I can understand why people wouldn’t want to see me go but what’s done is done. I don’t want people to say anything bad about me. I don’t think I did anything to make anybody feel angry.”

When it comes to reasons why players want to leave the Raptors, a lack of positive media coverage is a recurring theme. One of the reasons Vince Carter demanded to be traded was because of what he felt was incompetent marketing of the team. In 2004, he referred to the Raptors as the “laughingstocks” of the NBA.

McGrady, who left in 2000, suggested that he wanted to leave because the media coverage was focusing too much on Carter.
 

When it comes to Bosh, later interviews suggested that he was uncomfortable with this perceived lack of media exposure. There was the idea that Canadian games don’t get airtime in the states. As a Toronto Star article noted, “a Raptors spokesman estimated that ‘less than 10′ Toronto games got a pan-U.S. airing during Bosh’s career up north”.

On this subject, Bosh himself said, “Really, it’s all about being on TV at the end of the day. Seriously. A guy can average 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds), and nobody really cares. If you don’t see it (on U.S. national TV), then it doesn’t really happen.”
 

In a sport where careers can live and die based on the interest of spectators, it makes sense to have a fear that you’re not visible enough.

Not only that, but a negative attitude towards Toronto may be more common than we think. According to TSN’s Jamie Bell, Toronto is often seen as not a good market for US players because of the culture shock of having to adapt to a new country and new rules.

Former Raptor Matt Bonner was quoted as saying, “”I think it’s some sort of stigma. A lot of people think of Canada and Toronto as the ‘Great North’ and that it’s snowy all year and all these great untruths and myths that are totally false.”

It doesn’t help that Canada as a country is underrepresented in the NBA, with the Vancouver Grizzlies having dissolved and moved to Memphis in 2001. Players might see Toronto, and Canada in general, as a smaller market.
 

Except that is simply not the case: Toronto is a huge media market, second only to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Toronto’s own Air Canada Centre is no slouch when it comes to basketball venues, seating close to twenty thousand fans at games, roughly the same seating as the Heats’ own American Airlines Arena.

Even the city itself has its pros. It’s large, cosmopolitan and has a great night-life. Weather-wise, its warm summers and mild, dry winters make it a good choice. Meanwhile, smaller American towns farther south have high temperatures in the summer, and do not have the same kind of culture. As Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong said, “Would you rather play in Salt Lake City or Oklahoma City or Minneapolis or Milwaukee? Give me a break!”

Armstrong thinks that this fact isn’t getting through to its players enough. He was quoted as saying, “When you look at it, this place is one of the World class cities. It’s the fourth largest market in pro-sports (in North America). It’s got so much more to sell than so many markets in the NBA. That message has to get out there in a better fashion.”

Toronto is a good basketball town. The Raptors are one of the leading teams in the league when it comes to ticket sales; as of the 2006-2007 season, the Raptors averaged 18, 259 fans per game in the 19,800 seat ACC. The statistics make it plain: Torontonians loves their Raptors.

So why the perceived lack of media exposure?
 

 

In the TSN article, Matt Bonner suggested that the problem with lack of exposure has less to do with Toronto itself and more to do with the Raptors’ performance. He said, “In the end, in order to fix that image it comes down to consistent winning and building some sort of legacy and pride within the organization.”

Writer Jamie Bell goes on to note, “The easiest way to rectify this situation is winning. If the Raptors were a perennial contender it would suddenly become a very viable location for free agents… In nearly a decade since the Olajuwon signing, the Raptors have made the playoffs only three times and never past the first round. If the franchise is serious about once again becoming a big player in the free agent market, then they must first make inroads in the win-loss ledger.”

That says it all, doesn’t it? The grass doesn’t have to look greener on the other side.

And what have Carter, McGrady, and Stoudamire been up to since leaving Toronto? Well, of the eight NBA all-star selections Vince Carter has received, only three have been in his post-Raptors seasons. All of his NBA playoff records were in 2001, while on Toronto’s side.

McGrady, meanwhile, has done fairly well for himself. Post-Raptors, he was NBA scoring champion twice, in 2003 and 2004, and an NBA All-Star seven times, from 2001-2007. But that hasn’t translated to a ring or even going deep in the playoffs.

Stoudamire, since leaving the Raptors with his Rookie of the Year Award, had a strong start with the Portland Trail Blazers, before spending a lot of time on the inactive list and doing spot duty on the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs. He retired from basketball in 2008 and landed a position on the Grizzlies’ coaching staff in 2009.

As for Bosh, he’s got the increased media attention and exposure he wanted. We’ll see what he does with it in the future.

In the meantime, Toronto will continue to support its Raptors as it has since the team’s creation, but the team has its work cut out for them to make it a place that players will want to stay in.

We’re looking forward to seeing what they do.

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