The Toronto Raptors may be out $25,000, but the previously-anonymous team is coming out winners after a recent drama bomb related to rapper Drake and a few choice words aimed at Kevin Durant has helped raise their profile to new heights in the NBA.
A few weeks ago at OVO Fest in Toronto, Drake, the global ambassador for his hometown Raptors franchise, casually asked fans how they’d feel if NBA MVP Kevin Durant signed on with the team. (Well, “casually” may be an understatement. At the height of their excitement, fans were actually chanting KD, KD, KD.)
Durant signing on with the Raptors is a possibility of debatable merit come 2016 when the player hits free agency, but the problem here is that the Oklahoma City Thunder small forward was present at the concert—and Drake knew that full well. Reacting in typical hardline fashion, the NBA quickly slapped the Toronto Raptors with a $25,000 public tampering charge for their official frontman’s actions.
Further fueling the ruckus, it was reported yesterday that the NBA would have waived the fine if the Raptors had fired Drake. But why would they can their newest source of mainstream infamy?
The Raptors accepted the fine and are refusing to strip Drake of his global brand ambassador status. And here’s why. When they signed him on, they knew what they were getting into—celebrities cause drama, and at the very least have the ability to make great headlines.
This has been playing in the team’s favour. According to Topsy analytics, Raptors-related tweets have spiked six times over their off-season average of just under 2,000 mentions a day when the debacle broke out. Currently, the mentions are holding steady at around 3,000 daily tweets. That’s an awful lot more than, say, the Brooklyn Nets, who barely push 750 mentions on a typical evening, and around the same as the Miami Heat’s off-season average.
The attention doesn’t end there. Mainstream and social media are now wondering aloud whether the NBA is trying to push one of the world’s biggest rappers out of the game. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail framed the NBA’s punishment as overly selective, pointing out that, technically, Drake isn’t even drawing wages from the franchise. On the other hand, the NBA never slapped Brooklyn Nets part-owner Jay-Z with a fine for consorting with various players.
His reasoning is that the Canadian team, once considered a forgettable, frozen relic to the north, has suddenly become a real contender for hearts and minds of NBA fans to the south. He goes on to suggest that the Raptors’ newfound popularity isn’t sitting well for execs belonging to American teams. Hence the beatdown.
A conspiracy theory? The Raps couldn’t have asked for anything better.
The league’s potentially partisan punishment is proof positive of how much the Raptors need their famous front man. The NBA is a fan of grand gestures—just think back on Donald Sterling’s (rightful) firing. The fact that the Toronto Raptors are the latest team to be caught in the league’s crosshairs, however deserved, just goes to show how much their profile has increased.
The team brass are probably wishing it had happened sooner.