TORONTO – After 25 years the Toronto Raptors and their fans were given the distinction of hosting a coveted Christmas Day game for the first time ever.
So then, what’s that like?
Well, other than a much more dolled-up production from the Raptors’ game operations crew, and playoff-level engaged crowd – though much more jovial and a lot less nervous than the springtime buzz – it’s a lot like any other regular-season game between two top-flight opponents.
Which is to say, the Raptors’ 118-102 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Celtics Wednesday afternoon was entertaining enough until it wasn’t because of its blowout nature and still, ultimately, just another regular-season game – if you’re looking at it purely from a basketball perspective that is.
The truth is, like the holiday itself, a Christmas game means so much more than just who won or lost, or anything at all to do with the game for that matter.
As such, it’s worth asking a different question: If it’s not about the basketball on a Christmas Day game, then what is it about?
The answer to this query is not so easily unearthed, but there were bits and pieces of a resolution seen throughout Wednesday’s matinee contest.
Most notably, with 4:49 left in the first quarter when Celtics backup centre Enes Kanter checked into the game for the first time to a mostly muted reply.
Likely because he was playing for the opposition, but the tepid applause for Kanter’s arrival into the game is a bit if a shame, for if more of the sold out Scotiabank Arena crowd knew what Kanter had been through to even step foot into the country for Canada’s first-ever Christmas Day NBA game, let alone onto the court, there maybe would’ve been a standing ovation that could’ve threatened to stop the game momentarily.
After all, Kanter didn’t even know he was going to be allowed into Canada until two days ago.
In a heartfelt op-ed he penned in the Globe & Mail on Monday, Kanter revealed that with help from the Canadian government, he would be able to enter the country and play on Christmas Day in Toronto.
A special moment as — because of comments Kanter has made criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s treatment of its citizens — Kanter is a wanted man by his home country’s leader and has been threatened, bullied and even nearly kidnapped by pro-Erdogan agents when he’s left the United States, meaning he hasn’t been able to travel outside of the U.S. when his team goes abroad.
And up until Monday, Kanter’s status was still up in the air for this Christmas game.
“I didn’t know 100 per cent until the 23rd,” Kanter said before Wednesday’s game of when he knew would be able to play.
“The Celtics have been working on it since the beginning of the season,” he added. “As soon as we learned that we had a Christmas game in Toronto they just started working on it. I spoke to chief of staff for the ministry of immigration two days ago who actually said, ‘We all good.’ One of my friends reached out to [Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s office yesterday and they said, ‘We all good’ and told me not to worry about it and that everything’s gonna be smooth.”
Kanter hasn’t played an NBA game outside of the United States since Nov. 10, 2018 when he was a member of the New York Knicks – against the Raptors. It’s a time period that seems like years to him and, as such, to be able to play once again in Toronto on Christmas of all days meant so much more to him.
“It’s more than a game to me,” said Kanter. “It’s definitely a blessing to play on a Christmas Day, especially in Toronto, the defending champions. But it feels good to be out. It feels good to be free, it feels good to be enjoying this time with my teammates, for sure. It’s amazing.”
Later adding: “It’s not just about basketball, it’s something bigger than that. Now it’s like world leaders have got my back, now it’s like the government’s got my back. So take that Turkish government.”
This is what playing on Christmas is actually about for Kanter. Like he said, it’s so much more.
“I’m trying to use my story to tell other stories,” said Kanter. “I want to thank Canada because they are definitely like a model and taking Turkish refugees all over the world and that’s why it’s so important to give thanks to the Canadian government to Mr. Trudeau to support me, because it was really, really important.”
But you don’t have to have lived Kanter’s struggles to understand the importance and symbolism of what playing on Christmas Day means, either.
“It’s just special. To have an opportunity to have my kids see me play and to just enjoy the moment, it’s cool man,” said Kyle Lowry after the game of what it was like playing on Christmas. “It was something that took 14 years to get to, I got to it, unsuccessful, but it was a fun, great time.”
Lowry wasn’t playing for anything more than the Raptors and his family, but that doesn’t discredit the special feeling he had in regards to playing on Christmas — a time where seeing or being seen by loved ones just means that much more.
And this, to get back to the initial question at hand, is what a Christmas game is about.
Yes, Lowry’s Raptors got bombed out in what ended up being a non-competitive game, but he got to fulfill a dream of playing on the day itself and had his two precocious, rambunctious boys with him for the special occasion.
That’s not bad at all.
And sure, Kanter, had a nice game, scoring 12 points – 10 alone coming in the first half – with 11 rebounds, but the message he Sharpie’d on his Nike sneakers is another part of what the day is really about: “Freedom.”
Christmas is supposed to be a time when we celebrate humanity. Having fun watching or even playing a basketball game is part of that, and more than anything, so is the ability to enjoy whatever you do to celebrate without fear.
That’s not just what a Christmas basketball game is about, that’s what Christmas is about, period.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)