The 2004-05 Toronto Raptors season was the beginning of a dark time for the franchise. Rob Babcock was in charge of decision-making, Vince Carter was traded for a package of peanuts, Rafael Arujao was defending the paint and fans were quickly losing the interest that had been built during the years of “Air Canada” Carter.
One of the lights that shone through that darkness was a little known kid out of Florida University named Matt Bonner. After barely making the Raptors team out of training camp he gave fans something to cheer for. He was an unknown player who worked hard for his minutes and made a difference when he came in. He didn’t miss many open shots, gained a reputation for shooting the three and wasn’t afraid to battle with anyone on the defensive end.
Even this guy…
Fans loved to cheer for him. In those days there wasn’t much else to cheer for. But Bonner was special. He was humble, worked hard and earned his minutes. He also became a legend in Toronto for taking the TTC to games. He was dubbed “The Red Rocket” by Chuck Swirsky, a name that has stuck to this day.
Many Raptor fan favourites have come and gone over the years, but Bonner remains very closely tied to the city where he began his NBA career. He spends much of the off-season in Toronto and over the years has been a frequent contributor to The Basketball Jones on The Score (now The Starters on TNT).
He liked the city so much he decided to become connected to it for life. He met his wife here in the city after his playing days in Toronto and makes Toronto his off-season home. His marriage actually created a great opportunity for Basketball Canada as well. Bonner applied for Canadian citizenship and was expected to play for Canada in the 2011 FIBA tournament, but was denied citizenship because he spent too much time outside of the country (you know, in San Antonio where he works). It was a tough blow for him and for Canada as the team failed to qualify for the Olympics that year. It’s highly unlikely he will have the opportunity in the future.
Still he may not be an official Canadian, but he is to everyone here in Toronto. It was tough to see the fan-favourite leave the city in 2006 when he was traded in a deal for Rasho Nesterovic and it was even harder to watch him blossom into an important player in San Antonio.
Bonner has given Coach Popovich a very strong presence off the bench in San Antonio. He hits threes, makes open shots, contests shots on the defensive end and most importantly gives his full effort out there every possession. He is a coaches dream. He has been a part of two San Antonio championships in 2007 and 2014 and remains an important piece for the Spurs in their current system.
In San Antonio he also became somewhat of an NBA celebrity. He won over the internet with his twitter campaign in 2013 to be included in AllStar weekend. #LetBonnerShoot was a huge internet success and trended all over the NBA and got him into the three-point shoot out that year where he finished 2nd. Kobe Bryant even became a big fan of Bonner’s over his time in San Antonio and dubbed him the “Red Mamba“.
Though the Spurs now call Bonner theirs, he will always have a place in Raptor history. He still ranks among the top Raptors of all-time in Offensive rating and 3pt percentage and remains a personality the city refuses to let go of.
The Red Rocket: a true classic Dino.