Rapper/actor/moderately successful cable TV host Drake has an “ambassador” position with the Toronto Raptors, though his role with the organization is still somewhat unclear. He shows up courtside to some games, he’s not quite an investor in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s ownership division, and he’s also not a personnel executive charged with obtaining players and coaches.
That vague bit of branding is why we were all confused when the NBA decided to levy a $25,000 fine on the Raptors after Drake led a Toronto-area crowd in a round of cheers for Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant last week. Drake was cited for tampering charges, and Dan Devine outlined the apparent fineable offense on Monday:
"Before we leave, I just want to show one of my brothers something," the multiplatinum-selling recording artist said. "You know, my brother Kevin Durant was kind enough to come to the show tonight and watch us. I just want him to see what would happen if he came to play in Toronto. Let him know what would happen."
Now, word comes from Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly, who relays the idea that the NBA would have passed on handing down the fine had the just disassociated itself with Drake:
This has risen beyond the level of a spat. It’s an executive knife fight. Raptors officials would not comment on the Drake versus NBA situation. They are plainly loath to make their secret war public.
They also refused to address a key detail – that the NBA offered to drop the tampering fine if the team agreed to strip Drake of his title. The Raptors apparently refused.
Kelly has solid MLSE ties, which makes this whole thing seem like a bit of nonsense. The fine was not an insignificant amount, unless you’re the Toronto Raptors – a major market team that sees no problem with employing a cadre of executives as it fills up its money-making arena even in lean years. To believe that the NBA would demand an employee’s head in return for declining to fine a team a hundredth of what James Johnson will make this season seems very un-NBA’ish.
And we’re not exactly huge fans of most of the decisions coming out of the NBA’s front office. Like, for instance, this decision.
This is coming from someone who can’t name a single Drake song, so I’m hardly backing a favorite singer here, but this fine is incredibly silly. Drake isn’t even on the Raptors’ payroll, his presence is just a nice marriage of commerce that works well for both parties, and by extension it works well for the NBA – it’s good to have the host of the ESPYs, as pointless and dull as that show can be, be associated with the league and the Toronto Raptors above all.
This isn’t akin to a tiny, minority owner of some other NBA team admitting at the podium of a local luncheon that the squad he owns a small part of would sure like to sign Kevin Durant in two years. Owners, part-owners, coaches, assistant coaches, and low-level executives could still have some technical semblance of a line of technical influence on a team’s personnel department. Drake – who, again, is not paid by the Raptors – has no such influence. It’s akin to a team’s color analyst – who would actually be paid by the team in this instance – pointing out in a summertime radio interview that the team would like to retain cap space in the summer of 2016 in order to take a shot at Kevin Durant.
A comment like that wouldn’t force the NBA to toss a fine a team’s way. And that color analyst is paid by the team and he attends every single game at courtside. Unlike Drake.
This dubious and obviously Raptors-sourced relay seems a little too cool to drool over, though. It feels like a Raptors source is trying to pass his team off as the league’s newest resident rogue badass, and you could be sure that the Raps would gladly pay $25,000 a month (in all, nearly 20 percent of what they’ll pay Bruno Caboclo this season) just to get the items “Kevin Durant” “Toronto Raptors” “2016” “free agent signing” tossed around search engine metrics.
The NBA does some dumb stuff. It overreacts on fines and suspensions at times, it’ll give you a technical foul if you slap the backboard after an awesome dunk, and it’s about to put ads on jerseys and turn you or the kid you bought a jersey for into a walking billboard. In a couple of years it’ll lock its players out again and possibly cancel games because its owners will have signed free agents to terrible contracts.
This fine was a dumb idea, but in the grand scheme it is harmless and certainly nothing to get upset over.
What’s an even dumber idea is the image of the league attempting to toss one of the world’s most famous entertainers out of its tangential ranks so as to save the Toronto Raptors $25,000 – or, 1/56th of what they paid Quentin Richardson last season. All because the NBA supposedly thinks Drake’s vague “ambassador” title is a problem. After all, this was the guy who literally blew in the ear of free agent Lance Stephenson last month.
If you want to believe the Raptors on this one, fine. It’s akin to believing some middle-aged stuffed shirt in the Raptors boardroom when he tells you that he and Drake are “close, personal friends” and that they “hang out all the time.”
Although you can believe them when they tell you they have a “Canadian girlfriend” that they met online.
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