Rap­tors re­flect on their city in time of sad­ness

Pres­i­dent, coach, play­ers come from around the globe, but all proudly call Toronto home

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - SCOTT STIN­SON Sstin­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/ Scot­t_Stin­son

Some­thing that of­ten hap­pens to the Toronto Rap­tors on the road hap­pened the other night in Washington.

The Rap­tors and Wizards got in a mild tus­sle, and some mem­bers of the D.C. crowd started chant­ing, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem played Born in the U.S.A., with the op­er­a­tor ap­par­ently obliv­i­ous to the fact that most of the Rap­tors were born in the United States — and that the song protests the treat­ment at home of Viet­nam War vet­er­ans.

But this is the thing about the Rap­tors: They are a truly in­ter­na­tional team, heavy on Amer­i­cans, but with key play­ers also from Europe and Africa, yet very much a team of Canada. It’s why Amer­i­cans shout pro-Amer­i­can things at the Amer­i­cans who wear Rap­tors jer­seys: They see this team as rep­re­sent­ing Some­where Else. And so, when that some­where else was shat­tered by tragedy on Mon­day af­ter­noon, the Toronto Rap­tors, the team from ev­ery­where, spoke up for their adopted home.

“Ev­ery­where I go I brag about this city,” said Ma­sai Ujiri, the team pres­i­dent from Nige­ria who played and worked in Europe for years and is on his sec­ond stint in Toronto. “It’s the safest place in the world, it’s the best city in the world, and it’s go­ing to con­tinue to be the best place and the best city.”

Ujiri said he was in a meet­ing Mon­day af­ter­noon when texts and mes­sages from around the NBA started flood­ing his phone. He turned on the tele­vi­sion to see the re­ports of dead and in­jured pedes­tri­ans struck by a van on a Yonge Street side­walk.

Ujiri has trav­elled enough to have been close to mass-ca­su­alty events be­fore, and he said he’s had times when his mother has been wor­ried about some of the places he’s gone for his job. Once, she gave him grief over such a trip when he was back home in Den­ver, where he was work­ing at the time. Days later, a movie the­atre in Colorado was the scene of a mass shoot­ing.

You could be any­where, Ujiri said, and th­ese things could hap­pen.

“We must con­tinue to live our lives and not be afraid,” he said.

Kyle Lowry, the star guard, said he thought about his chil­dren when he saw the “sick­en­ing ” news. It could have been them, he said, echo­ing a thought shared by mil­lions in this huge city in the hours since the news broke and every­one thought of the times they had walked that same side­walk, in a busy stretch in Toronto’s north end. Lowry said he was amazed by the video of the po­lice of­fi­cer who ap­pre­hended the sus­pect with­out fir­ing a shot.

“I think in Amer­ica he would have been shot up a few times,” he said. “Ku­dos to that of­fi­cer.”

And, as the Rap­tors pre­pare for a cru­cial Game 5 at the Air Canada Cen­tre on Wed­nes­day night, they ac­knowl­edged that the events of Mon­day put re­cent play­off strug­gles in a dif­fer­ent light.

“It was just this week­end I was talk­ing to peo­ple in Washington about how safe Toronto is,” said Rap­tors coach Dwane Casey, who grew up in Ken­tucky during the civil rights era, a time that was scary for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

“It does put things in per­spec­tive. There are things much big­ger than sport that are go­ing on in the world, and right now in Toronto,” he said. “Hope­fully sport can give a re­lief, a re­prieve, some joy in our lives a lit­tle bit. It should lighten things up.”

If noth­ing else, it will be a dis­trac­tion.

The Maple Leafs served that role on Mon­day night, win­ning a home game to ex­tend their NHL play­off se­ries, with Game 7 com­ing in Bos­ton on Wed­nes­day night, the same night the Rap­tors will be tip­ping off at home against Washington. The Blue Jays are play­ing, too, and Toronto FC will be chas­ing a cham­pi­onship in Mex­ico on the same night.

MLSE an­nounced on Tues­day there would be a joint Leafs-Rap­tors-TFC view­ing party Wed­nes­day night in Maple Leaf Square, out­side the Air Canada Cen­tre.

It won’t help with the suf­fer­ing of those in­volved, or with an­swers for why it hap­pened, but all those games, one big cathar­tic party, will pro­vide some­thing else for Toronto to think about.

And for the Rap­tors, be­set by ques­tions af­ter a two-game los­ing streak, Mon­day’s events were a re­minder that one can only get so worked up about ag­gres­sive de­fence and lim­it­ing turnovers.

“What we do doesn’t re­ally mat­ter some­times. I can’t imag­ine what it would be like to be on that side­walk,” Ujiri said. “My drive home, it’s all I thought about was that, and the heav­i­ness of it, but the next thing I thought about was I still know who we are, I still know what this city is.”

Ujiri may not have been here as long as some, but his pride in this place is ev­i­dent. He said he knew it would carry on.

“I still know that those kinds of things can never put a city, a coun­try, like this down.”

It’s the safest place in the world, it’s the best city in the world, and it’s go­ing to con­tinue to be the best place and the best city.

CLAUS AN­DER­SEN/GETTY IM­AGES

Wed­nes­day’s game against the Bos­ton Bru­ins will be the sixth ca­reer Game 7 in the NHL for To­mas Plekanec, but his first with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

CRAIG ROBERT­SON/FILES

Rap­tors pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri says he was dev­as­tated by the deaths in Toronto Mon­day, not­ing: “What we do doesn’t re­ally mat­ter some­times. I can’t imag­ine what it would be like to be on that side­walk.”

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