A Reboot Most Welcome

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When the NBA came to Toronto, basketball had been on a cultural trajectory in the city that has never been steeper, and the Raptors were welcomed with open arms and enthusiasm that had merchandise flying off shelves everywhere before one name had even been added to the roster. The Raptors were placed 7th in league-wide merch sales before a single ball was dribbled in the Skydome; there was and is a thirst for the product, and ever since that has meant very large dollars for all involved. But right off the jump, there was already a problem then that preceded all the woes the franchise has endured since, and that was the logo.

The first name out of the gate for the Toronto franchise had been the Huskies, but being as Huskies and Timberwolves had a whole bunch in common, Toronto backed off anything that would resemble Minnesota’s team, and chose in its place a dinosaur.

Now in 1994, dinosaurs were all the rage. Jurassic Park had just grossed $900 million, and the velociraptor brand was trading at an all time high. It was hip, it was new, and even if it seemed a little childish it was moving product like nobody’s business. What it wasn’t, however, was timeless, and even before the nineties left Toronto with a string of uninspiring teams, the dinosaur was getting old. And now that the team is heading into it’s 18th season, the call for a substantive change is coming from fans, and is being heeded by new MLSE quarterback Tim Lelweke and GM Masal Ujiri. The whispers are all there, and it looks like a rebranding is in the works.

Nobody in Toronto is going to say their mascot is the overall reason for the team’s unending malaise, as it happens on most nights the guy in the suit is probably the most dynamic, athletic player on the court. But nobody can deny that after swapping personnel, coaches and executives over and over again for almost two decades only to get repeats of the same lackluster efforts and results, what’s needed now is a permanent culture shift on behalf on not only the club, but the culture surrounding it. There are no “glory days” for the franchise to harken back to. The best the Raptors ever gave their fans were a string of first round playoff exits, a history of superstars leaving on bad terms and an embarrassingly small number of winning seasons.

The Raptors have reached a dangerous tipping point in their history, they’ve gone from gold plated enthusiasm, straight through the stubborn bitterness that can fuel teams for generations (look no further than their conjoined twin hockey club) to where they are now, indifference. It’s indifference from a host city that can decimate a locker room’s morale, repel the sort of free agents that might actually turn things around, and kill any chance at change in the crib. Antipathy has set in and nothing short of dynamite is going to shake it loose. And that’s why a “makeover” isn’t going to cut it, that’s why MLSE should, and we think likely will, blow up the entire team and start over.

Toronto fans will flock to a winner, or even to a team that looks to become one, and a fresh start, one that gets fans, and especially kids, inspired and interested, is absolutely necessary. Because with Toronto bowing out of the first round of the draft (thank you very much Kyle Lowry) and no real blockbuster deals on the horizon, fans in Hogtown are going to need something to get excited about, and if the turn around at the ACC isn’t going to happen by new faces on the court, maybe it can start with something as simple as a new name. It’s a chance (not a guarantee of course, but a chance) to leave all the baggage behind and clean the slate. It’s a chance to get the city talking about basketball again and paying attention to the comings and goings of the team, and it’s a chance to reorient the team more closely with the city, and maybe with Canada as a whole. While dinosaurs are arguably cool in their own right, they hardly scream Toronto.

While it’s true that a new look will only get them so far, it’s really imperative that the “Raptors” get off the ground and soon, and today that bump is less a novelty and more of a necessity. Because whatever tricks Uriji has up his sleeve, none of them are going to be instant fixes, and if the team’s trajectory keeps going down instead of up, the “new chapter” in Toronto Basketball history is going to be over before it starts.

 

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