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.
Hockey Canada's strategy of deflecting serves no one but its disgraced leadership – The Globe and Mail
A while back, I had a job in a movie theatre. The theatre at the foot of an atrium in an open-plan tower. We plebs could look up at the offices and hallways above, where the corporation’s big wigs worked.
The biggest wig in our world would often lean over a balcony and stare down at us, like a gargoyle in pinstripes. If you were caught loafing, a call would be made and you’d hear about it.
One day, there was a commotion from several floors above – a lot of screaming and banging. The biggest wig had been fired. His reaction was to go back to his office and barricade himself inside it.
The banging was security kicking in the door. The screaming was him being dragged to the elevators. It was a different time.
But the lesson therein is timeless. Nobody likes being canned. But people in charge take it particularly hard.
Right now, 2½ months into Hockey Canada’s sex-abuse scandal, we’re at the barricade stage.
In any other country, this would be over now. Through a combination of popular outrage and political panic, the Hockey Canada edifice would have been burned to the ground.
But in this country we continue to believe shame will do the job for us. That the people in charge of this world-class gong show will get the message and slink off home.
But Hockey Canada’s leadership is not operating on Canadian rules. They’re pulling from the American handbook on how to survive a scandal. Shamelessness is a prerequisite.
Their first job was deflecting.
In terms of an absolute defence, the deflecting’s gone about as well as a guy trying to push off bullets by waving his hands around. But it bought time. The men in charge knew they could count on Ottawa to a) quickly promise to take decisive action and b) take absolutely forever to decide what that decisive action looks like.
Deflecting has another virtue – it dilutes outrage. No matter how awful, people can only read about a story for so long without becoming bored. And there’s always a fresh outrage to divert us.
This week, Hockey Canada hired someone to head an investigation into the workings of Hockey Canada. You could’ve written out this person’s CV long before the name was made public – retired judge, history of public service, member of the new Family Compact, etc.
Finding people is not hard. There are a whole bunch of them out there twiddling their thumbs, itching for someone to stick a microphone in front of them.
But after two months of withering pressure, Hockey Canada is just now figuring out who will set up the Slack group to discuss how to begin discussing their problems. Let me guess that if they’d been bleeding cash instead, organizing some sort of working committee would have taken two hours.
But this is how you do it, American-style. Pretend it’s a live broadcast with screen time to fill before commercials – stretch. Continue talking about nothing. Don’t stop speaking. It’s the silence that kills.
While you’re stretching, keep your eye on the horizon. That’s where the sports are. If you can make it to sports, you might be okay. The same people who wanted your head paraded in the town square yesterday might be distracted by a waving flag.
On Tuesday, the world junior hockey championship begins in Edmonton. Over the weekend, there will be a barrage of publicity about the tournament that launched a thousand official denials. We’ll rehash the particulars of this ugly affair and assess where we’re at. This column is part of that.
By Tuesday, the usual outlets will be talking about hockey. How’s Canada’s top line measuring up? Where’s the United States at? Whither the Olympic team?
This is how you erect a modern, media barricade.
Having seen a million of these things go down in recent years, you know you’re not going to talk your way out of your problem.
Bottom-line: You were in positions of authority at a public institution when something abhorrent happened. The integrity of that institution cannot be maintained if you continue to lead it.
This is obvious. But in our rush to definitively nail someone, anyone, we have skidded past the obvious. Now we’re all deep in the weeds, hacking away.
Uncovering the minutiae about who said what to whom at what board meeting may absorb reporters and politicians, but it only serves Hockey Canada’s current leadership.
While we’re Inspector Clouseau-ing this thing, we’re also avoiding the clear end point. The longer we spend doing that, the more likely it is that these fish all get off the hook.
This was the goal all along. Deflect, get to the world juniors, hope that Team Canada wins and that everyone is too exhausted by the end of it to keep taking pops at you. By the time your judge wraps up his report – let me guess ‘Mistakes were made but there is a clear plan forward’ – maybe you’ll have successfully run your gauntlet.
It’s not a plan, as such. As with Hockey Canada’s in-camera board meetings, nobody’s written it down. It’s instinctive process based on observation. In scandals as in sports, the mission is getting through today.
It’s not going to work. That’s also obvious. No matter what the eventual report says, it will reignite outrage.
The names of the players involved in the two alleged assaults will come out, probably during the NHL season. That will reignite outrage.
At any moment, the alleged victims could make fulsome public declarations. That will reignite outrage.
Any way you go, the outrage is going to leak out again. The only way to contain it is to blow this down to the foundations. Eventually, everyone’s going to realize that.
Really, all that’s being decided now is how you want to get to the elevators – walking under your own power, or being dragged there screaming by the rest of Canada.
Rafael Nadal announces he will not be playing at the Canadian Open
Nadal cited that the reason to abandon the Canadian Open was a result of an abundance of caution regarding injury concerns.
“From the vacation days and my subsequent return to training, everything has gone well these weeks. Four days ago, I also started training my serve and yesterday, after training, I had a little discomfort that was still there today.
We have decided not to travel to Montreal and continue with the training sessions without forcing ourselves. I sincerely thank the tournament director, Eugene, and his entire team for the understanding and support they have always shown me, and today was no exception.
I hope to play again in Montreal, a tournament that I love and that I have won five times in front of an audience that has always welcomed me with great affection. I have no choice but to be prudent at this point and think about health,” said the Spaniard.
Last month, Nadal was forced to withdraw from his Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has also withdrawn from the Canadian Open as his status as unvaccinated against COVID-19 means he cannot enter the country.
Djokovic is also unlikely to play at the US Open after organizers said they would respect the American government rules over travel for unvaccinated players as the United States (US) requires non-citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.
“Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event.
The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens,” read a statement from the US Open which is set to take place in New York from the 29th of August to the 11th of September, 2022.
Nevertheless, Novak Djokovic will be joining Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to play for Team Europe in the Laver Cup.
The event, which pits six European players against six from Team World over three days, will take place in London between 23 and 25 September 2022.
“It’s the only (event) where you play in a team with guys you are normally competing against. To be joining Rafa, Roger and Andy, three of my biggest all-time rivals, it’s going to be a truly unique moment in the history of our sport,” said Djokovic.
Canada beats Sweden to claim gold in Hlinka Gretzky Cup – Sportsnet.ca
RED DEER, Alta. — Canada scored early and often and also stayed out of the penalty box en route to a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal final of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Tanner Howe, Ethan Gauthier, Calum Ritchie and Brayden Yager scored for the Canadians, who held period leads of 2-1 and 3-1 at the Peavey Mart Centrium on Saturday. Riley Heidt also chipped in with two assists for the champions.
Hugo Pettersson scored for Sweden, who were outshot 36-26. Each team received eight minutes in penalties.
Canada had beaten Sweden 3-0 on Aug. 3.
“Three weeks ago, we put this roster together and I felt right away this was a tight group,” said head coach Stephane Julien. “It’s not easy when you have this much talent, but everyone accepted their role and I’m so happy for them.”
The win is Canada’s first gold medal since 2018, the last time this tournament was held in Canada.
“I’m so happy for this group,” added Julien. “They haven’t had it easy in their careers the last two years with the pandemic, but now they have this, a gold medal and something they are going to remember for the rest of their career.”
Canada advanced to the final with a 4-1 win over Finland, while Sweden defeated Czechia 6-2. Finland beat Czechia 3-1 in Saturday’s bronze-medal final.
The Hlinka Gretzky Cup will shift to Europe in 2023, returning to Breclav and Piestany, Czechia for the first time since 2021.
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