Posts Tagged ‘sports’
On a bright warm day like today, why not talk about sports?
Joyita Sengupta’s Torontoist post “Raptors Fans Were Always The Other” writes about the extent to which the Toronto Raptors, Toronto’s NBA basketball team and the only such team in Canada, is a badge of pride for new Canadians. For people of recent immigrant background, this is the sport they connect with.
I grew up in a basketball neighbourhood. It was the stretch of Dixon Road between Islington and Kipling avenues, predominantly made up of Somali or South Asian immigrants. Despite our 416 area code, you would be hard pressed to see a Leafs jersey anywhere on my block. I can’t say I’ve met anyone from Dixon that was on a Little League team, either. However, without fail, as soon as school let out kids would run to the back of the local elementary school to shoot around whenever it was warm enough to. The older boys dominated the court, sandwiched between the six white, brick high rises, donated to the neighbourhood by iconic former Toronto Raptor Vince Carter in 2003. Despite never playing ball (or any sports, for that matter), I still get a tinge of hometown and neighbourhood pride when I walk by that court and see the VC logo on the now well-worn backboards.
At the core of being a Raptors fan is this sense you were always the “other” in Canada and Leafs-obsessed Toronto, long before the team was left out of CBS Sports’s poll, sparking #WeTheOther. Even with success of the “We The North” branding, the franchise hasn’t always received a lot of support outside of Southern Ontario. But as the Raptors wade deeper into the post-season than ever before, their fans are being put under the microscope.
Out of the words that have been used to describe Raptors fan, “young” and “diverse” are most used. An Indiana Pacers fan from south of the border was perplexed by all the “Canadian Indian Muslims” that travel town to town to support the team. They’ve also been described as some of the most dedicated, energetic fans in the league. “Not normal,” one Indiana columnist called them. These distinctions bring Raptors fans together.
In this weekend’s Historicist feature, Chris Bateman writes about the baseball mascot of a late 19th century baseball team, the Torontos. Back them, “mascot” was the subject of a good deal of offputting racial fetishization.
“[Mascot,] though so far unacknowledged in Webster’s Unabridged, is in popular use, and mascots are becoming more numerous every day,” reported the Utica Observer in July 1886.
“Players of the national game are the most superstitious of men. ‘In their opinion, skill has little to do with the result of a match,’ says one who has studied the matter. ‘A bird flying over the field, the flag blowing in a certain direction, a little boy picked up by one of the nines, a goat or a dog wandering across the diamond while the game is going on—these are the things which include victory to one side or the other.’”
As the Utica Observer indicated, the trend in the 1880s was to acquire young Black boys to travel with the team and sometimes perform light duties, such as handing out or collecting bats for the players.
The Torontos, one of the city’s first major baseball teams, had Willie Hume,”a very small and very fat coloured boy,” according to the Globe.
Hume’s precise age and origins are unclear. The Globe reported he was “picked up” when the team passed through Syracuse en route to an International League game against Rochester, and he first appeared on the bench during a game against Buffalo during the 1886 season.
Torontoist reposted a 2010 essay by Jamie Bradburn looking at how Toronto very briefly had its own basketball team just after the Second World War.
Given that basketball was invented by a native of the Great White North, perhaps the fates were at work when the first game of the league that would become the National Basketball Association was played in Toronto on November 1, 1946. That distinction would be one of the few highlights of the short existence of the Toronto Huskies. Poor personnel decisions, a problematic star attraction, and lousy gate receipts all proceeded to sink big-time basketball before it could establish itself in Toronto.
Toronto seemed like an odd choice to set up a pro franchise. While amateur games were found in city schoolyards, the passion and infrastructure for college hoops was nowhere near the growing popularity the sport saw in the United States. What Toronto possessed was a large arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, which belonged to the Arena Managers Association of America (AMAA). The association, which included all NHL rinks except the Montreal Forum and a healthy chunk of venues for American Hockey League teams, was approached by promoters looking for suitable arenas to launch a basketball league that would cover more large cities than existing pro leagues. While both the American Basketball League and the National Basketball League saw their business perk up after World War II, their powerhouse franchises were located in metropolises like Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was hoped that the Basketball Association of America (BAA) would draw crowds on nights where the usual hockey tenants were off the ice.
For a star attraction, the Huskies signed “Big” Ed Sadowski to the fattest contract in the league—$10,000. Sadowski had been a collegiate star for Seton Hall nearly a decade earlier and, if the choice had been up to him, he would have preferred to play near his alma mater and home in New Jersey for the New York Knicks after a few seasons in the Midwest in the NBL. When Knicks coach Neil Cohalan decided to go with a young squad, Sadowski pinned his hopes on receiving a call from the Boston Celtics, where his college coach Honey Russell was in charge. The phone never rang, so he settled for Toronto’s offer, which also included coaching duties. According to Charley Rosen’s chronicle of the first season of the BAA, The First Tip-Off, Sadowski figured coaching would be a breeze: “All he had to do was make substitutions, tell everyone to pass him the ball, and chew their asses whenever they lost.”
Huskies business director Lew Hayman gave Sadowski free reign over personnel decisions, which led the playing coach to recruit a lineup consisting mostly of Seton Hall alumni who lived near him. He was obliged to sign some Canadian talent to keep local fans happy, so six players were given tryouts to compete for two spots. The winners were two players from Windsor, Hank Biasatti (a star at Assumption University, the forerunner to the University of Windsor) and Gino Sovran (who had played sparingly for the University of Detroit).