The Journal’s first (and last) Raptors mailbag

sideline commentary

I really, really like the Toronto Raptors—up to a point where I only omitted the word “love” from that first sentence to avoid frightening away potential readers and members of the opposite sex.

Over the years—from the Skydome, through Walt Williams’ high-socks, around Oliver Miller’s waistline, behind Charles Oakley’s fist, under Hakeem Olajuwan’s crutches and through Rafer Alston’s tears—I’ve become a bit of a diehard, an unapologetic, biased to blindness, a physically and emotionally involved fanatic.

But when it came time to write my Raptors column, the many experiences I’ve had with them over the past decade became downright overwhelming. I was confronted with a problem that real writers only dream about: I had too much to say.

Suddenly, I found myself asking friends if they would rather read about Coach Sam Mitchell’s suits or Morris Peterson’s “manzier” (or “bro,” if you prefer). About Matt Bonner’s smile or Jalen Rose’s dearly departed scowl. About the possibility that Alonzo Mourning hates the elderly or the possibility that Vince Carter is a woman. About Alvin Williams’ ailing knees or Alvin Williams’ ailing ankles ... there was just too much.

Realizing my inability to make such an important decision—no, I’m not proud of this—I turned to you, my loyal readers, to direct the discussion. So without further ado, to the mailbag. These are real letters from real people, most of whom I promise are not members of my immediate family.

My friend described the Rob Babcock era as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I was wondering if you could better sum up the Babcock experience in one movie title.

—Trevor S., Kingston

That’s pretty well put, Trevor. Amazingly, this doesn’t even exhaust the list of Jim Carrey films which describe Babcock’s tenure as GM—I’d add Liar Liar, Dumb and Dumber and Man on the Moon. If I was permitted to use any film title, I could likely infinitely extend the list, but the first few that come to mind are Misery, Apocalypse Now, Road to Perdition, Punchline and—of course—Unforgiven.

However, to best sum up the Babcock experience—for fans and players alike—I’d have to expand the boundaries and go with Punk’d. The idea doesn’t stop there, either.

When the Raps held a press conference to fire Babcock, I secretly expected it to transpire like the ending of a Scooby Doo episode: Babcock unzips a plastic mask to reveal that he’s actually ... Ashton Kutcher and we’ve all been “punk’d.” Everybody laughs in embarrassment as Rafael Araujo comes from backstage and shows that the whole lack-of-hand-eye-coordination/draft-bust act was part of the prank: he performs juggling tricks, runs through tires and effortlessly sinks left-handed lay-ups.

Then Aaron and Eric Williams emerge, still laughing, flashing their plane tickets back to New Jersey and sporting their old Nets uniforms. Finally, Vince Carter takes the stage, donning the red and purple, and despite bumping his knee on the podium, he doesn’t wince or shed a tear. He simply jumps high in the air and says how good it feels to be back in T.O. ... now pass me some of those Scooby Snacks.

What/how/why is Loren Woods?

—Gordon M., Halifax, NS

It’s funny looking back on the first two games of last season, when Loren Woods tricked the world into thinking he was legit: in wins over the Rockets and Pistons—matched up with Yao Ming and Ben Wallace, respectively—Woods tallied 26 points and 21 boards. Now, somewhere in those three glorious days, he must have also fooled Chris Bosh, as they’re apparently best friends. To me, this is at least confusing and at most disturbing.

Thinking about this moved me to think: if given the chance, would I be best friends with Loren Woods? No—in fact, I wouldn’t even be friendly acquaintances with him.

And from here emerged the “Loren Woods Available Friend Clause,” which states that, if I was doing nothing in particular and Loren Woods came to my door asking to hang out/go to a movie/go out for a drink, I honestly would decline the offer—in other words, I would not take him even if he were an available friend.

When you think about it, this clause probably applies to tons of ordinary people you know, but very rarely to athletes or celebrities. In the television industry, Michael from Prison Break would fit the clause. In the music industry, I wouldn’t take the lead singer of Nickelback if he was an available friend. By the way, an emerging candidate for the “Available Friend” clause: the Florida Gators’ Joakim Noah.

Colour commentator Leo Rautins has described Raptors backup point guard Darrick Martin as a “savvy veteran” who has “plenty of quality years left in the NBA.” What are your thoughts?

—Aaron B. & Sam K., Kingston

My thoughts? Leo Rautins and I radically disagree on the meanings of the following words: “savvy,” “plenty,” “quality,” “years” and “NBA.” Either that, or Leo is mistaking Darrick Martin for Sam Cassell, analogous to mistaking a bag of potatoes for an iPod.

Where do you think Mike James ranks in the NBA amongst players on the longest leash? He’s not as bad as Kobe, Iverson or Arenas, but the guy takes more shots than Wade Boggs after a bad day at the office.

—Charles S., Toronto

Of the 20 total questions I received, a whopping six concerned Mike James—generally pertaining to his “shoot first, pass ... me the ball” style and upcoming free agency.

Granted, Mike James is a gunner (interpret that however you like). He apparently has a tattoo on his back of a faceless Jesus watching over a pit bull, though I can’t remember which of these figures is meant to represent him. And yes, he takes lots of shots in tight games which aren’t always good ones. But I’m rushing to Mike James’ defence—and not only because I respect a man whose name you invariably have to say in its entirety.

Are we already so far removed from the transaction itself that we forget the circumstances of Mike James’ arrival in Hogtown? Folks, we received this guy and his one-year, $3.4-million contract in return for Rafer “Crying Game”Alston and his five-year, $30-million contract. Have we lost all memory of Alston—notorious for his ball-hogging, lack of a jumpshot, and infamous threat to “quit the NBA” a month into the season?

Trading that trainwreck for Mike “Onions” James and then complaining about his shot selection is like exchanging a stapler for a laptop and subsequently whining about not having a wireless internet connection.

As for Mike James’ impending free agency, let’s turn to the last email I received: “Mike James? Really? Can’t we let Isaiah Thomas make that mistake?” Give it a few months, Raptors fans. I have little doubt that he will.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.