Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It is Time to Support Canada's National Basketball Program!

The preliminary round at the World Basketball Championship gets underway on August 28th in Turkey, and it is time for Canadian hoop fans to rally around their national team. After a very disappointing turnout at several exhibition games in Vancouver and Toronto, it is becoming clear that the national team is not on the radar of sports fans in this country and that is a shame. Whatever the sport, when our national colours are worn with pride, we should be cheering for our men and women, regardless of the sport or the outcome.

I will be the first to admit, for the past several years I have not been an avid NBA or basketball fan. During my time in Vancouver, I watched with great excitement as the Vancouver Grizzlies arrived in town. Watching games live and on television, buying merchandise, reading every bit of news in the sports pages, I could not get enough, the NBA had come to Canada and I was thrilled. The Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors signified that Canada was more then just a hockey country and many expected basketball to grow as a sport in our country. After all, when you drive down any suburban street, there is often one or two hoops at the end of a driveway or on a garage and having two NBA teams gave young Canadian players the opportunity to dream about making the NBA and playing in their own country.

Handcuffed by the NBA’s decision to keep the top five draft selections away from Toronto and Vancouver during their early years, the Grizzlies struggled on the court. More often then not, they were on the losing end of each game and became a bit of a joke around town. The losses began to affect the fan base and the attendance dropped slightly, as one would expect when a team is at the bottom of the standings year after year. The decision to relocate the team came too quickly in my opinion, the NBA gave up on a market (and a beautiful city), that could have been one of the crown jewels of the NBA.

With only the Raptors left as “Canada’s Team”, it is difficult to promote the game as a national sport. No disrespect to the Raptors, but after living in various parts of Canada over the years, right or wrong, some folks just do not like Toronto. Newspapers in Canada rarely contain articles pertaining to the Raptors and will often focus on the NBA elite, like the Lakers and the Celtics. There are probably more Laker fans in Canada then Raptor fans at this point because of their higher profile in the North American media.

Almost two years ago now, I found myself living in Toronto for 14 months, and I discovered Eric Smith and Paul Jones on the Fan 590 radio station. They are the radio voices for the Raptors’ broadcasts and their passion for the sport is contagious. Listening to their broadcasts, as well as Eric’s show “The Game Plan” (which he co-hosted with TSN basketball analyst Jack Armstrong until recently), my passion for basketball was renewed. While I would not call myself the biggest Raptors fan, thanks to these three men, I can call myself a basketball fan once again. Which brings me back to my main point - it is time for Canadians to support our national basketball program.

I read a comment recently from a sports fan, regarding the NHL’s involvement in the 2014 Olympics. I cannot remember where I saw it, but it went something like this - “I hope the NHL players are in the next Olympics, I don’t want to watch a bunch of ECHL or AHL guys playing there”. While that is just one comment, it reflects an underlying theme when it comes to the national basketball team in Canada - will Steve Nash be on the team, if he is not, then I don’t care...

Is that how far our national pride extends? If the flash and dazzle of the millionaire players are not included, then sports fans stop waving the Canadian flag? Until the NBA is filled with Canadian players, the national program should be left to die on the vine? That is a shame - if we love basketball and our country, we must show our support to the young men wearing our national colours with pride in Turkey.

You can follow Eric Smith and Paul Jones on Twitter - and Eric has a great basketball blog on the Fan 590 website. If you are looking for great insight and in-depth analysis, I highly recommend checking these guys out! Drop by the national team’s website, or follow their progress in the World Championships at the FIBA site.