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King in the North - How Drake changed basketball in Toronto

If Raptors are the new NBA champions it's also thanks to the Canadian rapper

King in the North - How Drake changed basketball in Toronto If Raptors are the new NBA champions it's also thanks to the Canadian rapper

It seems that Spike Lee bought his first New York Knicks ticket on June the 19th of 1985. He said so, during an ESPN interview, adding that that July the 19th was also the day after the NBA Draft that brought Pat Ewing to the Knicks with the number one pick. After 25 year, Spike Lee is now a true icon of NYK, and an example of celebrity supporter, employed not only in cheering for his team and fighting with his enemy, but also trying to recruit champions, like Carmelo Anthony and Ray Allen. Spike Lee was the best celebrity fan ever, until it came Drake.

During the 2019 Playoff, Drake took the stage, the one right outside the parquet. Sit right next the team, he cheered with them, clapped for them and even massagged the coach. He then fought with the team opponent players, rising so much the level that Adam Silver, the league commissioner, had to verbally intervene:

We certainly appreciate his superfan status,I know he’s beloved in the community of Toronto. Certainly we don’t want fans, friend or foe contacting an NBA coach during a game. I think those can lead to dangerous situations. You’re in the middle of coaching a game and you’re completely focused. You obviously don’t want somebody not on your team touching you”.

But which is, exatcly, the role of Drake in the Toronto Raptors? And how important is? Shaquille O’Neal said that “it’s called marketing, Drake is a smart guy”. But it is really just marketing?

In September of 2013, Toronto Raptors and NBA announced that Toronto will be the first Canadian City to host an All-Star Weekend in 2016, becoming the first non-US stop of the weekend stars. In that same occasion, the Raptors also announced the role that Drake would have in the team, global ambassador: “ I want to bring the excitement into this building, I want a team that people are dying to come to see, I want the tickets to be extremely hard to get, I want to bring that aggression, I want to bring that energy. And obviously, I want it to be a top team in the NBA, if not the top team, Drake said.

Reading today that statement, it really impressing how right it was that idea. Toronto Raptors became, for the first time in their history, Eastern Conference Champions and then NBA Champions, for the first time ever for a Canadian basketball team, beating one of the longest and incredible NBA Dynasty: the Golden State Warrios.

In a piece on The Globe and the Mail of 2016, Cathal Kelly wrote: «It would be wrong to say he has reshaped the global perception of this city. That would suggest there had been any perception at all. Until Drake decided to make it his quixotic mission, Toronto did not exist in the imagination of the wider world», and the same, more or less, apply for Raptors. The Vinsanity - or, like the documentary with the same name “the Carter Effect” - had the role to put Toronto on the map, and helped the franchise gain respect. But even if the shock was heavy, it came almost to an end. In 2015 then, Toronto Raptors - that was in the meantime acquired by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) - launched the biggest rebranding campaign in the American basketball.

 

«We weren’t rebranding just the Raptors, we were rebranding Canadian basketball», said Tom Koukodimos of Sid Lee Toronto, the agency that tried in the mission. The result was “We The North”, launched with a video that saw Drake as narrator. It was also the time for introducing the concept of “the North”, in some way copying the success of Game of Thrones. The operation also embraces the OVO Night at the Air Canada Center, and some black and gold jersey used for the city edition jersey, also inspired by Drake label.

The bond between the franchise and the same roster is to tight that it seems that Drake has his own locker in the Raptors locker room. «Drake and OVO are a big part of our city landscape, of the identity of our team and of the plan to bring a ring in this city», said Masai Ujiri, the Raptors President when the team facility center was named after OVO.  

But the symbiosis among Drake, Toronto and Raptors go beyond the simple idea of the brand. After giving the city a new nickname, the Six, that shaped the urbanistic aspect of the city - there was, in fact, a lot of store with that very same name - Drake tried to also change the composition of playground in Toronto, donating, together with Raptors, 3 million dollars for Canadian Basket and playground rebuild. Drake saw the final game 6 in a space called Jurassic Park, settled just right outside the Air Canada Center, where Raptors fans group together to follow the team when away. After the victory, Drake took on Instagram, announcing two new songs, “Omerta” and “Money in the grave” dedicated to the NBA title.

In 2014, during a concert as part of OVO Fest, Drake saw Kevin Durant among the audience. He just said him hello from the stage, and then ask the crowd to make some noise to lead him to choose Toronto during the free-agency. This was meant as tampering by the NBA, that fined Toronto Raptors for 25.000 dollars. But a source inside MLSE said that NBA tried to convert that fine in something else: they said to Raptors “if you drop Drake, we’ll drop the fine”. The answer, obviously no, gave NBA the idea that Drake was too important for the Raptors, and that was in NBA to stay.

 

It was a good choice, since, according to Forbes, the value of the brand is nearly doubled since the partnership with him. A partnership that now, in the Finals against the team of his friend Durant, had lead Drake to become the first “celebrity” ever to actually “win” an NBA ring.