We The North: Book Review

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An Insider Look at Sports Reporting & The Evolutions of the Raptors, and Basketball in Canada

Doug Smith is a sports reporter for the Toronto Star, and is most famously known as a beat reporter covering the Toronto Raptors.

Smith has covered the team since its inception, and released his own book, We The North: 25 Years of The Toronto Raptors in October 2020.

The book details the Raptors’ journey from an irrelevant franchise in a hockey town, to an iconic organization that inspired both a city, and a country to take to the hardwood, their couches, or wherever, to experience the poetry in motion that is the sport of basketball.

Smith is able to provide some unique insights given the length of time he’s followed the team, and because of this he is uniquely qualified as someone who can chronicle the history of a franchise, and the growth of a sport in a nation.

We The North is able to bring some new, unheard-of stories to light, from the perspective of a reporter that’s seen all the ups and downs of Canada’s (now) lone basketball team.

Courtesy: Amazon

Synopsis

The book isn’t quite an all-encompassing account of all the 25 years of the Raptors’ existence, season-by-season, but it covers most of the important moments, people, and storylines that have come and gone during that time.

Smith dedicates certain chapters of the book to specific topics and notable figures in Raptors history. Readers can expect to learn some interesting insights about people such as Masai Ujiri, Nick Nurse, Dwayne Casey, and Vince Carter.

NBA Top 100: Part 3

Sam Forencich / NBAE via Getty Images

If anything, the book reads more like a chronicle of basketball’s growth in Canada over the past 25 years, as the sport’s growth is inherently linked and forever intertwined with the Raptors.

He is somewhat of a basketball pioneer himself, as he competed against Jay Triano in his high-school days, and he’s seen the game evolve from the days where hockey nets dominated suburban driveways, to the present where it’s rare to see a neighbourhood in Mississauga, Ontario that doesn’t have a driveway basketball hoop.

Strengths, Weaknesses, and The Bottom Line

Some of the major highlights of the book are Smith’s philosophies and approaches to doing the job as a beat reporter. Now, more than ever, the media’s relationship with athletes has been fractured, potentially beyond repair.

It’s almost common practice to see at least a couple players every week get annoyed or aggravated during interviews, or become dissatisfied with a take or public comment that’s aimed towards them.

It’s reached a point where a player like Kyrie Irving became so fed up with the media, to the point he was no longer intending to speak to the media during the 2020-21 season.

This player dissatisfaction with the media has led to player-first publications such as The Players’ Tribune, as Smith notes.

Courtesy: The Players’ Tribune

It wasn’t always this way, as before the social media explosion, it was common practice for beat reporters to talk to players in the locker room prior to tip-off. That time before games often led to some small talk, catching up with players, and the occasional anecdote that would spark a story idea down the road.

This time was also a means of building rapport between the players and the media, and Smith notes in the book that trust building between is a key proponent of doing this job, and might I add effectively.

This is in stark contrast to the general practice of “traditional journalism,” as the common “rule” as a journalist is to not be attached or affiliated emotionally with the subject or person you are reporting on, in order to ask the hard questions no one is asking, and to be able to pursue truth. And yet, at the same time it is difficult to do so as a sports journalist who is around the team seven days a week, and really gets to know the people working for the team.

Smith is able to balance the embedded-nature of being a beat reporter by holding himself accountable knowing he’d have to face the players if he’d rip them too hard, while also noting that knowing the right time to ask a certain question could mean the difference between a player confiding in you versus a player ignoring you for a period of time.

Courtesy: RaptorsHQ

Smith’s able to work his on-the-job philosophy into the book, while giving the readers the receipts of his work which validates his approach, while also not coming off as overly braggadocios or cocky. Smith’s been a respected member of the sports media world because he’s earned it, and he has done so by approaching the job with integrity, truth-seeking, and trustworthiness.

There are certainly some moments as a reader that leave you reeling for more, as some emotions and sentiments could have been further explored.

The moment the Raptors broke through to win their NBA title for example could have been further explored by gathering an anecdote from a longtime-fan or a former member of the organization from its early days, which would tie the story together in a narratively-pleasing bow.

Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images

Nonetheless, Doug Smith’s account detailing 25 years of the Raptors organization is a must-read for anyone looking to gain insight on the sports reporting world, or to anyone that is a major fan of the franchise.

Some of the chapters should be required reading in any sort of sports reporting class or university program, as Smith drops little nuggets of knowledge and advice that are sure to help any young professional looking to break into the sports media world.

If you’re a big fan of the Raptors, you’ll be able to fondly reminisce on the journey the Raptors took from an afterthought franchise in a hockey-dominant town, to forever icons that shaped one generation of basketball players, and is sure to shape another generation down the line.

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