Respect, like children’s belief in fairies, or lithium, is a tenuous resource. The Toronto Raptors have a long-standing feud with respect. Although it’s by no means unique to Toronto, fans of the team often feel personally disrespected by referees, media narratives, and free agents’ decisions. As the home of the only NBA team not based in the United States of America, national media coverage can occasionally dismiss Toronto and its accomplishments.
Many Toronto players have themselves used the constant weight of disrespect to fuel their careers. Terence Davis and Fred VanVleet are famously connected by the similarity of their origin stories: undrafted guards who’ve had to earn every minute they’ve ever played in the NBA. So many Raptors’ slogans are tied to that very idea: bet on yourself, understand the grind, make ‘em believe. The core concept between all three is that others don’t bet on you, don’t believe. They lack respect.
Hosting a Christmas Day game is one of the ultimate signs of respect in the NBA. The regular season’s most appetizing slate of games is intended to be reserved for the best teams and the most compelling rivalries, and it’s impossible to leave the defending champion out of the mix. So, for the first time in NBA history, a Christmas Day game took place outside of the United States.
In the brightest timeline, Toronto was supposed to host a Christmas coming-out party to a league that can occasionally be dismissive of its efforts. Pascal Siakam was supposed to explode for 40 points on a broadcast whose network hyped the Christmas games with only negative highlights of the Raptors. Toronto was supposed to bet on itself.
Instead, the Raptors were out-gunned and out-classed by a disciplined Boston Celtics in a 118-102 loss that seemed even worse than the final score. Kemba Walker dribbled into countless pull-up triples as Toronto, missing Marc Gasol, was too afraid of Boston’s offensive rebounding to lift its center out of the paint. Nick Nurse even admitted that yielding those shots was within the scope of the gameplan, at least until Walker started hitting them. Jaylen Brown stole Siakam’s spotlight as the best player in the game, hitting every variety of shot, no matter the defensive pressure, en route to his game-high 30 points.
There were, as always, some positives. Kyle Lowry was, as has been the norm since Toronto lost so much of its talent to injury, a masterclass on the offensive end. Chris Boucher was fantastic and decisive; he closed the game for Toronto over Serge Ibaka. Fred VanVleet’s shot remains absent since his return from injury, but he finished fantastically inside the arc and finished with 27 points. Still, when one of Lowry, Boucher, or VanVleet wasn’t manufacturing miracle offense, Toronto had trouble scoring in the half-court and committed countless unforced errors in transition.
The Raptors fell flat in one of the team’s few spotlight moments of the year. The defending champions did not earn respect with their Christmas performance. It’s possible that until they win another championship, as one MLSE employee (wishfully?) said to me before the game, Toronto will never again host a Christmas game. After the Christmas letdown, ESPN will likely continue ignoring the defending champions this season, and perhaps rightfully so.
Disrespect can, of course, also yield benefits. Disrespect on the court yields open shots, particularly for underappreciated players like Chris Boucher, who shot three-of-four from deep against Boston. The ever-looming specter of disrespect can result in entire Hall of Fame careers, as in the case of Kyle Lowry and the constant, general lack of belief in his abilities outside of Toronto. Disrespect off the court can yield Christmas days spent with family rather than working, playing basketball and having to justify your performance to media members who would also rather be at home.
Disrespect, however, is a thing of the past for the Toronto Raptors.
There are no moral victories once you’re a champion, but along the same lines, there should be no real demoralizing losses either. The Toronto Raptors are defending champions, and they’re currently holding court without several of their best players. They’ve won some wacky games short-handed, but they couldn’t recreate the recipe against Boston. The lights are bright on Toronto’s first Christmas game, but that doesn’t make the game matter more. The Raptors don’t need to earn respect because they should already have it. Winning the championship has freed Toronto to lose, just as it freed them to play on Christmas at all. Respect may be a double-edged sword, but the Raptors are learning that this Christmas, they’re floating above the battlefield.
The absurdity of medal ceremony mask-wearing at the Tokyo Olympics – Yahoo Canada Sports
TOKYO — The International Olympic Committee on Sunday reminded athletes to keep wearing masks, especially at the one time when mask-wearing is completely unnecessary.
Dozens of athletes have now stepped up onto podiums here at the Olympics. They’ve draped medals around their necks, and listened to national anthems, with nobody within six feet of them. And in perhaps the proudest moment of their lives, with emotions washing over their faces, their families, forced to watch from home, haven’t been able to see those faces, because they’re covered by masks.
And when pictures circulated of a few swimmers posing on podiums with masks off?
A reporter asked IOC spokesman Mark Adams whether there’d been a relaxation of COVID-19 rules that require mask-wearing during medal ceremonies. “There is no relaxation,” Adams responded. “We would urge and ask everyone to obey the rules.”
But at the Tokyo Aquatics Center on Sunday, Olympic officials made a mockery of those rules. A non-story became a story because pictures circulated of swimmers arm in arm with masks off. But multiple athletes said after their competitions that they’d been directed to remove their masks for photos.
“Someone in the front was holding a sign that said, ‘Don’t wear a mask,’” said gold medal-winning American swimmer Chase Kalisz. “So, um, I can’t speak for what the proper protocol was, but he had a sign that said ‘mask off’ and ‘mask on.’”
Hours later, silver medal-winning Canadian diver Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu confirmed: “At one point they said to take off masks for a picture.”
And then, after the medal ceremonies, swimmers and divers alike paraded around the pool deck, stopping for more pictures, arm in arm with their fellow medalists, masks sometimes on, sometimes off. They hugged coaches. One German diver put her mask on the ground, then in a pocket.
There are all sorts of protocol violations here. On the first night of competition, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe took her mask off for an interview with a dozen reporters in the post-match mixed zone. On Sunday, Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui lined up for an impromptu video interview against a wall outside the Aquatics Center after his improbable gold medal. Reporters surround him. A Tunisian Olympic committee official literally pulled Hafnaoui’s mask off, so cameras could see his beautiful face.
Protocols are enforced inconsistently. And yet, at the most prominent moment of virtually zero danger, with swimmers who’ll soon hug maskless separated by several feet, and with nobody in their immediate line of breath, the IOC and Tokyo organizers have decided that they must wear masks. At most of more than a dozen medal ceremonies tracked by Yahoo Sports thus far, including those in archery, judo, taekwondo and fencing, athletes have been masked up.
There is an argument that doing so models proper behavior, and perhaps that’s what Adams, the IOC spokesman, meant when he said that mask-wearing “sends a strong message.” But there is an obvious counterargument, that behavior modeling must be reasonable, or else the world will see it for what it is: all for show. Hygiene theater is prevalent at these Olympics. Medal ceremony mask-wearing is just another version.
Yahoo Sports’ Jack Baer contributed reporting.
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Vancouver Canucks place Jake Virtanen on waivers for purpose of buying out contract – ESPN
Canucks general manager Jim Benning confirmed the decision in an announcement on the team’s official Twitter account.
Virtanen was placed on leave on May 1 after being accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a women four years earlier. The organization said at the time that it “does not accept sexual misconduct of any kind and the claims as reported are being treated very seriously.”
The suit, filed in British Columbia, alleges Virtanen took the woman to a hotel in West Vancouver in September 2017 and assaulted her as she repeatedly said no and pleaded with him to stop.
The Canucks said at the time they had “engaged external expertise” to assist in an independent investigation. The NHL said then it would not comment until the investigation was complete.
The Canucks are on the hook for paying a third of Virtanen’s remaining $3 million base salary, while freeing up $2.5 million in cap space.
Virtanen, 24, had five goals in 38 games last season, a year after scoring a career-high 18 goals in 69 games. Overall, Vancouver’s 2014 first-round draft pick has 55 goals and 100 points in 317 games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Felix Auger-Aliassime first-round upset Tokyo Olympics – TSN
TOKYO — It was far from the performance Felix Auger-Aliassime was hoping for in his Olympic debut.
Playing on centre court of Tokyo’s Ariake Tennis Park on Sunday, Auger-Aliassime was eliminated in just under two hours by a player ranked 190th in the world who was not even scheduled to compete.
Australian Max Purcell, replacing the injured Andy Murray, upset the 15th-ranked Canadian in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the first round.
The 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime never got into any kind of rhythm, except for a three-game winning streak that saw him go from down 1-3 to up 4-3 in the second set.
The Montrealer’s performance otherwise did not live up to expectations.
“It’s difficult to explain,” said the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime a few minutes after the loss. “You have to give credit to Max for playing such a good match. Even if he’s more of a doubles player, he’s dangerous, he serves well.
“Despite everything, I still had chances to do better in this match. I had a very bad service game in the first set, which cost me. After that, I did not find ways to get back into the match. A little in the second set, but it was not enough.”
Purcell broke the Canadian to take a 4-3 lead in the first set and won all four points in the next game to go up 5-3.
“I played with confidence,” said Purcell. “I just had two great tournaments in singles. I won a Challenger just last week.
“I need to make the most every time I get in. I went out there thinking I could win, and I think I had just as much to lose as Felix in my mind.”
The Australian earned another break early in the second set to take a 3-1 lead. Auger-Aliassime then strung together his best tennis of the encounter, winning three games in a row to give renewed hope to his team gathered around the court.
But it was short-lived. The two players exchanged serves until the tiebreaker, where Auger-Aliassime fell flat.
“You always have to try to find solutions, to adapt,” said the Canadian. “It’s difficult, we don’t always play our best tennis. That was the case today.
“My first service game has been good. There was no reason (to struggle today). In training (Saturday), I served well. (Sunday,) I didn’t have a lot of good first serves, I couldn’t find the right pace.
“In the second set I started to serve better, but it was almost too late. He had gained confidence, he was leading the game and I was going through it. I tried to find solutions, but it didn’t work out.”
Auger-Aliassime was supposed to face Murray, but the two-time defending Olympic champion withdrew a few hours before his clash with the Quebecer.
Murray, 104th in the world, suffered a quadriceps injury in his right leg. He is still lined up to play the doubles portion of the tournament with teammate Joe Salisbury.
“It’s not easy for anybody, adjusting at the last second,” said Frank Dancevic, Auger-Aliassime’s coach. “You think you’re going to play one guy and somebody else comes, a different game style than Andy. So it was just a little bit of mental adjustment.”
Auger-Aliassime now turns his attention to mixed doubles, which kicks off later this week, with teammate Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa.
“It doesn’t change that much for me. Whether I play against Andy or Max, I had to play a good game” said Auger-Aliassime. “I would have had to find solutions.
“It for sure hurts. Coming here, I had the possibility of having a better tournament. Leaving so early is a bit unexpected and I am very disappointed. I have to accept it and I will try to bounce back in the mixed doubles.”
Purcell will next face Germany’s Dominik Koepfer, who downed Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.
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