Onlookers in a Denver hotel lobby stared in confusion eight days ago as reporters and cameramen surrounded what appeared to be a star athlete.
"Who is that?" one hotel patron asked a security guard who worked for the Toronto Raptors.
"That's DeMar DeRozan," the guard replied.
DeRozan was answering questions about being named a first-time NBA All-Star. The Raptors guard doesn't have a familiar face and isn't a household NBA name in his native United States largely because he's been on national television only once since being drafted in 2009.
"It is definitely frustrating to me personally," DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. "You put us against anyone in this league and we can beat them. It sucks that we don't get that much TV time. But if we keep winning, all that will come."
The Raptors, the NBA's lone Canadian team, were last shown on national television in the States on April 16, 2013 against the Atlanta Hawks. That game actually replaced the Indiana Pacers-Boston Celtics contest, which was canceled due to the Boston Marathon bombing.
Before that unscheduled national broadcast, the Raptors' previous nationwide appearance was Dec. 5, 2008 on the road against the Utah Jazz. One key reason why Toronto games are not often shown nationally in the States is because cable channels do not draw shares for a rating from the Raptors because they are in Canada, sources said. Unless you get NBATV, live in Canada, own NBA League Pass or live in a market where the local team is playing Toronto, it's going to be tough to see the Raptors play on TV in the United States this season since they don't have any nationally televised games.
"We are just starting to do things well and people are just starting to notice," said Raptors forward/center Amir Johnson.
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Raptors first-year general manager Masai Ujiri point out another major factor why Toronto is rarely on television in the States: Winning.
The Raptors have not been to the playoffs since 2008. The last time Toronto had a winning record was a 47-35 mark during the 2006-07 season. After a 7-13 start this season, the Raptors now are atop the Atlantic Division and have the Eastern Conference's third-best record at 26-23.
"When a team makes the playoffs every one of our playoff games is on national television in the United States," Silver said. "Increasingly, it's a global game. It's for the same reason that a player like Kevin Durant, even though he is in a relatively small market like Oklahoma City, there is no player that is better known than he is. I don't think Dwight Howard got better known in L.A. than he did in Orlando.
"The great players get seen, and it's not just through telecasts. It's increased through digital media, highlights, it's on YouTube, Twitter, it's on Facebook."
Raptors games were often televised in the States when Vince Carter was starring in Toronto from 1998-2004. Carter was one of the NBA's most popular players during those days in which he was an All-Star five times and was the 2000 slam dunk champion. But after the "Vinsanity" era ended in Toronto when he was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2004, Raptors' visibility declined rapidly, even with Chris Bosh still around until 2010.
"When we become good enough people will want to watch us," Ujiri said. "The team has to play at the level where we are one of the top teams. It doesn't come overnight. We have to build a certain brand and a certain team for people to watch. [Our popularity is] growing in Canada. It's growing in the United States."
The Raptors are hoping that DeRozan could be one of the big reasons they get more broadcast attention. DeRozan joins Carter, Bosh and Antonio Davis as the only Raptors to be named All-Stars. DeRozan entered Thursday ranking 12th in the NBA in scoring, averaging a career-high 22 points per game. The high-rising 6-foot-7, 220-pounder scored a career-high 40 points against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 22 and has scored 30 or more points seven times this season.
DeRozan learned he would be an All-Star for the first time on Jan. 27 after he read numerous congratulatory text messages upon the landing of the Raptors' charter plane in Denver.
"Just to be a part of that felt so surreal to me," DeRozan said. "It will still feel surreal to me until I put that All-Star jersey on."
If the Raptors make the postseason, Turner Sports and ESPN will have no choice but to put them on television. DeRozan is confident that the Raptors will be must-see TV soon and for a long time.
"We're going out there gaining our respect and everything will come with it," DeRozan said. "You can call it a coming out party or whatnot. But every time we step on that court you know who you are playing against. When we leave off that court you're going to respect us."
- Sports & Recreation
- DeMar DeRozan
- Toronto Raptors