The NBA lost one of its truly bright, shining stars last month when the Raptor — the Toronto Raptors' beloved stuffed-animal mascot — tore his Achilles tendon while doing a backflip at an event for children in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While we wouldn't put it past the Raptor to embark on a Kobe Bryant-like timetable-shattering recovery from this particular injury, the timing of the injury put the Raptors in the unenviable position of finding another focal point for their in-game entertainment (besides, y'know, the team) just a month before the start of the 2013-14 regular season.
They've decided, it seems, on a similar direction that doesn't bother trying to kid anyone, introducing Stripes, "a black-clad version of the mascot generally considered the best in the NBA," but who doesn't offer quite the same level of acrobatics. From a backgrounder on Stripes ahead of the Raps' season opener by Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:
“We didn’t want to trick our fans and put someone else out there as the Raptor,” said Shannon Hosford, vice-president of marketing and communications at [Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment]. “We just wanted to be straight up about what happened.” [...]
It’ll wear No. 13 on the front of its jersey and No. 14 on the back because it’s a one-year replacement. The look is different — black jersey and striped sleeves — and the antics won’t be nearly as theatrical as those of The Raptor [...] But it will be a mascot that goofs around during timeouts in games and at various public appearances during the season. It can’t be the same, and it’s doubtful it will be as good, but in this day and age of sports entertainment it’s important.
“The Raptor is next to impossible to replace,” said Hosford.
It's never easy to lose a starter in preseason and have to go to the bench right away; Raptors home games will inevitably feel like they're missing at least a little bit of the performative panache that's made them unique during the Raptor's reign. It's best to look on the bright side, though; at least there will still be someone to devour cheerleaders. (We hope.)
Here is some important information about Stripes, via the Raptors' official site:
Stripes is The Raptor’s young cousin. His Mom still calls him Velociraptor, especially when he is in trouble, but his unique markings led to his nickname when Stripes was just a kid about, oh, 200 million years ago. [...]
Unless you count Drake, Stripes is The Raptor’s biggest fan. He lives in The Raptor’s basement, surrounded by all the Raptors paraphernalia he can eat. [...]
Between games, Stripes and The Raptor reviewed game tapes of The Raptor’s favorite bits: the mid-court break dance, the referee mock and the sideline popcorn grab which requires precise timing when your fingers are eight inches in diameter and your claws could shred Kevlar. [...]
Least favourite things: Meteors, line dancing.
So, no line dancing in our future, then. Crud.
Stripes' introduction doesn't mean we won't be seeing The Raptor around, though, according to Smith:
The franchise plans to follow the mascot’s rehabilitation process through the season with a series of videos during games — Stripes was getting some tips during an afternoon workout at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday — and the team plans to introduce The Raptor during Wednesday’s home opener against the Boston Celtics so fans can pay a proper tribute.
“We think it’s important that he be there,” said Hosford. [...]
He or she or it — far be it from us to do any revealing — has a walking boot on its left leg. The rehab process has begun and there’s a vow to be back somehow before the end of the season.
Wonderful news for Raptors fans, who now have something to look forward to besides Rudy Gay's 20/20 vision, Jonas Valanciunas' expected ascent to defensive greatness and Amir Johnson continuing to do fun stuff. Not bad heading into a season opener.
- - - - - - -