Each week during the regular season and playoffs I’ll be making observations on one thing Raptors and two things that have to do with the NBA in general. Fans don’t watch the NBA because of percentages, they watch for the entertainment. This column will often step off the hardwood and onto the bar stool, making claims that are biased and subjective. Indulge!
* Length is due to getting excited to write about ball again. Future ones will be shorter #millennialattentionspans
Chuck, Matt, Leo and Jack
My early memories of the Raptors are a mix of Vince Carter dunks and crying faces, Garbojosa snapping his leg, JYD putback dunks, Mo Pete’s headband, and an irrational dislike for Chris Bosh. Yet, just as significant as those images, are the sounds that accompanied them. No, I’m not talking about Sam Mitchell’s legendary post-game interviews (0-0-0-0). It was Jack’s “Bacardi!” or Chuck’s “Oh my Bosh!” that would reach my ears and make me run downstairs to watch the game with my pops.
So first, let’s pour one out for my main man Chuck Swirsky who left us for Bulls Radio in 2008. His voice yelling “Air Canada!” or “Half-Man, Half-Amazing” on the old Vince Carter dunks is pure nostalgia. The emotional outbursts were great but it was the calculated vegetable mentions at the end of the game that deserve to be eternalized in the Raptors Hall of Fame. Every time Chuck felt that the game was in hand he would yell, “Bring out the salami and cheese mama! Raptors win, Raptors win!”. If someone would make a clutch play it would be, “Onions, baby onions!”. They were straight up ridiculous but so satisfying to hear. God dammit, we miss you, Chuck! Hope you’re doing well buddy.
Matt Devlin’s cheesiness is an acquired taste. Like any cheese, its enjoyment is very dependent on what it’s being consumed with. The mute button is in play anytime he’s paired with Leo Rautins. I’ll explain:
- They go overboard with the non-bias stance and end up over-complimenting the other team
- Reductive tendency to place all on-court results to “effort”
- When someone drives to the rim after an offensive drought they exclaim “There you go” as if that option was always available
- I swear they’re partly responsible for the “Raptor Killer Curse” by gushing over random bench guys that always go off on us.
- Overall they commentate with the tone of a parent that’s trying to be “hip” around their teenager’s friends (This whole Wale saga is an example, but low key gives them points for dissing a rapper)
Don’t get is twisted, I think Leo’s a boss, but the chemistry between these two just doesn’t work out.
On the other hand, Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong’s little father-son dynamic produce heart-warming commentary over Raptor buckets. When Jack gets excited, Devlin will try and be the voice of reason, giving off a “Dad, you’re embarrassing me” vibe. In Matt’s case, Jack always gives a paternal, “Wait, you haven’t realized this” logical approach. I understand that as colour commentators you want don’t want to be a homer, but their palpable disbelief at some of the no-calls on Lowry and DeRozan is A-1 entertainment. Devlin’s cheesy but you can tell he loves this team. He’s no 6God like Jack Armstrong or a legend like Chuck, but he’s aight in my books.
Stephen Curry vs. Russell Westbrook
Sorry Chris Paul, you’re the third best point guard in the NBA now. It’s not your fault, though! These dudes are not only younger; they’re straight up aliens. This isn’t about hierarchizing these supernatural beings, it’s about looking at the opposite polls they inhibit.
Curry is precision, smoothness and skill. Westbrook is chaos, aggression and power.
It seems likes just yesterday that Stephen Curry hopped off the surgery table, showed up on a Drake track then half-court shot himself all the way to an international phenomenon. I like to think of him as a mix between Allen Iverson and Steve Nash. In an article for The Player’s Tribune, Jamaal Crawford claimed that Curry “is as free as I’ve seen anybody on a basketball court in a long time”. Curry’s going to win back-to-back MVPs (maybe most improved) and it’s not even debatable that he’s the best basketball player in the world right now.
That’s a good look for the NBA. As a league that had to repair a negative public image which reached its apex at “The Malice at the Palace” (skip to 1:45) in 2004, Stephen Curry is the golden child antidote. He’s a church boy with a perfect nuclear family that’s never going to act out of line. He has a baby face, he’s not particularly tall nor does he ooze athleticism to the casual fan. That seems to infuriate fellow and past players who can understand how a 6’8 “Monstar” like Lebron dominates the league, but can’t process how this light-skin shooter has just dropped 50 on their head. He’s the baby-faced assassin.
Russell Westbrook is his opposite at everything but being light-skin and a really good at basketball. Their styles contrast. While Curry is a calculating assassin who will shoot you with a poison dart from a secret location, Westbrook will kick down your door, trash your house and beat the living shit of you. With unparalleled explosiveness, Westbrook is a whirlwind. Whipping risky passes, throwing himself at the rim, jumping over 7-footers for rebounds and gambling on defense. Not to mention his fashion sense being equally insane. He takes pride in letting you know, he’s not you, he’s Russell Westbrook.
We can imagine ourselves as Stephen Curry. Back up a couple steps from the three point line, throw one up and look away before it goes in, “Curry with the shot boi!”. Try grabbing a rebound off the backboard, blazing past everybody else on the court and throwing down on a human tree. Nice try.
They say styles make fights and my fingers stay crossed that these guys stay healthy, stay dominating and face-off many times in the future.
Back in 2011, Lebron James put out a series of commercials called “The Lebrons”. The were essentially a humorous representation of the different sides of his personalities interacting. You had Business, Athlete, Kid and Wise Lebron.
“Kid Lebron” was at his prime during the tail end of his first run with the Cavs. Doing those wild-pre game handshakes and constantly trolling other teammates. It seemed as if his positive energy as a leader made the team a lot of fun to play with. The vibe of the 09’ Cavs isn’t comparable to the 16′ Cavs and I believe that has a lot to do with “Kid Lebron” becoming full time “Wise Lebron”.
This season, James has adopted this overbearing veteran persona that seems annoying to be around. He’s constantly trying to teach everyone a lesson on and off the court. Despite being well aware of the media storm he’ll create, he consistently sends a curious combination of cryptic, passive-aggressive, and subliminal tweets at his teammates. Additionally, he’s always bringing up and showing love to his Miami teammates as if saying “I had so much fun playing here!”. Keeping it real, that’s pretty wack behaviour from any teammate, not matter how good you are. I love the Phil Jackson Jedi-mind tricks when they work, it just comes off as petty when they don’t.
On the court, I see a player finally facing his own mortality, reluctant to give up his domination to the next generation. After an all-time run as the best player and alpha-dog of the NBA, he has finally started to slip. He gives inconsistent effort on defense and his shooting touch has tailed off. His lack of trust in Kyrie, as well as Kevin Love, is defensible considering their lack of playoff experience, yet negative on court body language won’t resolve that situation.
I use to love watching Lebron play. Unlike Jordan, he didn’t want to do it all himself, he wanted to do it as a team. As someone that grew up with an unstable family setting, his basketball squads have always been his family. It’s painstakingly obvious that he doesn’t trust going to war with these dudes and his personal firepower is decreasing by the year. Lebron is still Top 5 in the league and could very well still be the best once the playoffs hit, yet Cleveland isn’t winning it this year. I’m willing to bet something big goes down this summer after they lose to the Raptors (Let a man dream!). Kyrie for Chris Paul? Love for Melo? Who says no? I’m just down for fun Lebron again.