If you asked any non-Canadian to name the two most famous people from Toronto right now, their likely answers would be: Rob Ford and Aubrey “Drake” Graham. While Ford is internationally recognized for all the wrong reasons, Graham has built a respectable hip-hop/acting career and embraces the image and culture of his hometown. In fact, Drake takes it upon himself to promote Toronto in both his business and musical platforms. Proof?
“I take Eglinton to 401 east
And exit at Markham road and the East end”
– Actual lyric from “Connect”
In terms of the corporate world, Drake has partnered up with notable brands such as Sprite and Jordan, but he is truly able to spread his admiration of the city through his recent role with the Toronto Raptors. As “Global Ambassador” of the team his job isn’t officially defined. In essence, he was hired to promote the Raptors on the world stage and use his influence to dismiss the negative stigma that has plagued the franchise since its inception. It’s been nearly a year since Drake was brought onboard to help the Dinos and his contribution has been decent at best. There’s no doubt that it’s a long-term project and his involvement will shape the team’s future brand. With that being said, let’s review the impact of Mr. Graham on the Raps thus far.
On January 11th 2014, Toronto hosted their rival Brooklyn Nets under the promotional headline of “Drake Night.” Fans in attendance were given unique shirts designed by the rapper and he served as host throughout the game. Although the Raptors pulled off a 96-80 victory in dominant fashion, the crowd’s energy was certainly sparked by the presence and campaigning of Drake. The free shirts became a hot commodity following the game, with asking prices in the hundreds. The Global Ambassador’s name alone was enough to generate interest around the league:
Y'all must don't understand though Drake had his own night during NBA game. Not Raptors vs Brooklyn but Drake Night. #Respect
— Brandon Jennings (@brandonjennings) January 12, 2014
Here’s where it gets questionable. I’ll play the devil’s advocate and say in this situation, the association of Drake took precedence over the Raptors’ performance at that point in the season. The sell-out crowd was only possible due to the promise of an exclusive giveaway and fan hype. And by “fan hype”, I mean the attendance of people who care more about Graham and his superstar status than the Raps. I’m not discrediting Toronto’s success, nor am I criticizing the work of Drake. It’s just that the attachment of the Toronto native has attracted bandwagon fans who justify their basketball interest solely through the involvement of “Drizzy.” Their loyalty is dependent on his. In the long run, consistent team success (not celebrity devotion) ensures a strong fanbase. If MLSE truly wants to grow the franchise, they must place a bigger emphasis on the actual sport of basketball instead of mindless allegiance to Drake.
Speaking of bandwagon fans, I have to acknowledge the elephant in the room:
Our Global Ambassador with Lebron James and Dwyane Wade immediately after their 2013 championship victory
“We (the Miami Heat) haven’t even hit our prime yet.”
Yes, as social media often points out, Drake has switched teams like Andrea Bargnani switches pasta (I’m assuming a lot). But it’s forgivable. In likeness to his friend Lebron, he’s gained the heart to come back home and make things right with the place that raised him. Since being hired he has yet to show support for another NBA team and interacts with Raptors players off the court. While it is a minor influence, his role in team motivation and chemistry is often overlooked. A musician of his stature is undoubtedly an exciting association to have and shapes the city’s shallow basketball culture. As previously mentioned, Drake’s contribution up to this point has been relatively weak. This can be proved with two words: lint roller.
He used a lint roller to clean his pants during live action in a playoff game. It’s really not a big deal at all. But since it’s Drizzy, people felt the need to blow this out of proportion and alert the masses. If anything, it is further evidence of the magnification on Drake and disregard for the Raptors. In wake of the ridiculous media response, Toronto soon distributed OVO-branded lint rollers for fans to collect during the playoffs. In all honesty, it’s absolutely pathetic that this is one of the more notable moments in Drake’s time with the Raptors. It’s obvious that there needs to be a shift in interest towards the court and away from the celebrity distractions.
Give the guy some credit. He’s at least made a recognizable effort to uplift and positively market his home team. Shortly after the partnership was announced, Drake bravely appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” to promote the Raptors. I say “bravely” because the program is notorious for its heavy coverage of Lebron James and nothing else. When the ambassador made clear his ties to Toronto, Stephen A. Smith laughed in his face. Drake has also been active on Twitter and Instagram, even going as far to trash talk grandpa Kevin Garnett during the team’s first round series with the Nets. As his fellow rapper and Brooklyn native Jay Z would say, you “can’t knock the hustle.”
Conclusively, the impact of Drake on the Raptors has yet to be seriously felt. In the past year there have been few moments that will actually help the franchise grow. But look to the future. His involvement with the squad can only create more excitement and intrigue in a team that has lacked it historically. The Raps need Drake to mold their brand into an appealing one. While Drizzy putting the Raps on the map is a start, there is far more to look forward to in the future. With the lure of Graham and the team’s promising outlook, Toronto will become a basketball haven and an attractive destination for free agents.
*Obligatory Drake song*