By Frank McLean
Now that the holiday season is over and we all head back to work or school about ten pounds bigger than we weighed before December 24th from all the food we stuffed ourselves with, fans of the Toronto Raptors wondered why weren’t the Raptors included in the five pack of Christmas Day games?
Well fans you are not alone. The Raptors organization was asking that same question before Christmas and again it’s the same old refrain of the team just not getting any respect south of the border.
In a scrum with the media during the home and home series with Philadelphia just before the Christmas break Dwane Casey lamented that he wished they were playing on December 25th.
“I wish we were in that group,” Casey said. “I think we have earned the right to be there. We are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I don’t know if it is advertising ? I don’t know what the reason is? Our record shows we deserve to be one of those teams.”
Casey has a point. After their overtime win on New Year’s day over the Milwaukee Bucks where the Raptors improved their overall record to 25-10 and an NBA best 14-1 at home, good for second in the NBA East behind first place Boston Celtics and a game where DeMar DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s record for points in a game by scoring 52, he has a point.
The problem is the Raptors do not resonate with ESPN and TNT the NBA’s national television partners in the United States and as a result they do not resonate with the fans in the USA.
Now the Raptors have been featured in one of the Christmas Day games – once. It was 17-years ago in 2001 when NBC had the national television rights in the US and the Raptors visited Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks.
They Raptors lost 102-94, but that was a moot point, NBC in those days couldn’t get enough of Toronto because they had Vince Carter.
Carter was big in the US and playing in Canada did not make him invisible in the states. He won the 1999 Rookie Of The Year award, he went out and won the slam dunk competition at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland and he had his 51-point game, which until Monday was the club record, on an NBC game of the week against Phoenix. People watched the Raptors when they were on national television in the US because of the man Chuck Swirsky called “Air Canada”. Kids in the US wanted Carter’s jersey the same way kids now want LeBron James or Steph Curry’s now.
This current group of Raptors have no one on their team that’s popular as Carter was back in the day. ESPN reported that this year’s Christmas Day games that they aired on their network or ABC had a 39-percent increase over last year’s games.
Would putting Toronto on affect those ratings? Well that’s the impression I get.
Here is the reality, regardless of the numbers DeMar DeRozan is putting up he does not have the publicity in the US that Carter had. Nobody is demanding that ESPN or TNT put the Raptors on regularly because they want to see DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. But they can’t get enough of James or Curry.
Now when you have the LeBron James Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors playing in three straight NBA Championship’s and the fact they are the two most popular players in the league you know that’s why they always get to play Christmas Day.
But why does no one want to watch DeRozan? In the last three weeks alone he has had two monster offensive games. We mentioned Monday’s club record 52-pointer, but five days before Christmas he put up 45-points in a comeback win in Philadelphia. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now who is having the best season any Raptor has ever put up.
So what do the Raptors need to do? Short of their PR department putting a gun to ESPN and TNT’s head I don’t know.
The reality is the Raptors need to keep putting pressure on first place Boston for the lead in the East. Get back to the Eastern Conference Finals win it and get to the NBA Championship. Even if they don’t win the title that seems to get you an automatic Christmas Day game since one of them is always a rematch of the previous seasons final.
The only alternative is for DeRozan to keep having monster games so sooner or later ESPN and TNT will have no choice but to feature the Raptors on Christmas Day.
Maybe next year?
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.