TORONTO — Basketball has arrived in Canada and well before the Raptors made The Finals. The sport’s awareness has multiplied in the last few decades — thank you, Vince Carter — and kids are populating playgrounds and gyms more than ever before, and this is having a trickle effect in the NBA.
When the 2018-19 began, there were 11 Canadians on rosters. In the postseason, there have been six: Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (LA Clippers), Cory Joseph (Indiana Pacers), Khem Birch (Orlando Magic), Trey Lyles (Denver Nuggets), Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets) and Chris Boucher (Raptors).
With Steve Nash, the favorite son of Canadian basketball, leading the charge, Team Canada should be competitive in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics. Canada has made the podium in Olympic play only once — back in 1936, winning silver. Nash is the country’s Michael Jordan, with a pair of NBA MVP awards and seven All-NBA teams.
And now the Raptors are battling the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors on the highest of stages. The glare is looked upon Toronto rather favorably, given the country-wide support for the Raptors and the heightened awareness created by Kawhi Leonard and teammates.
This makes Jamaal Magloire rather proud. He’s a basketball development consultant and community ambassador for the Raptors, and before this, he played 12 seasons in the NBA, making the 2004 All-Star team as a center on the Charlotte Hornets. But mostly, “Big Cat,” who also played one season with Toronto and retired as a Raptor, was born and raised in Toronto and became one of the first batch of Canadian players to reach the NBA.
Therefore, Magloire has touched all the bases: Canadian native and current resident, NBA player from Canada, second Canadian to be named an All-Star (after Nash), former Raptors assistant coach and now at age 41, a consultant for the home team.
He speaks from rich perspective, then, regarding the growth of the game in Canada and the development of the Raptors since 1995; the franchise was born when he was a senior in high school.
Here’s Magloire addressing his introduction to the game, growing up in the tough neighborhood of Scarborough after being born to Trinidadian immigrants, the influence of basketball among Canadians and the impact of the current team led by Kawhi.
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Shaun Powell: Canada didn’t have an NBA team when you were a kid. How did the game find you?
Jamaal Magloire: Well, we didn’t have any money, and it was a sport more for the inner city because it didn’t cost a lot for equipment. Resources were always a problem; there weren’t any open gyms so we played outside in the rain and snow. A good experience, good times. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, because Toronto’s winters are harsh, and we sometimes played without coats, but it was fun. When you’re a kid, you don’t know how hard you have it. You just play and have fun.
SP: The most popular sport here was and remains hockey and yet as you grew to 6-10 and brought toughness, somehow nobody saw you as being a future defenseman, I take it.
JM: I never played hockey. I played every other sport. Actually, we played road hockey but I never got on the ice. The equipment would be too expensive. So there was no future in hockey for me.
SP: Are Canadian inner-cities just as tough as those in the States?
JM: Well, let’s just say there’s a lot of challenges. We didn’t have it easy. We had no facilities like recreation centers or anything like that. From that standpoint, being a kid who was into sports, it was a challenging time to say the least.
SP: Since you never attended an NBA game until the one you played in as a rookie, how did you get exposure to the top level?
JM: Everybody played in the States so we watched the “NBA on NBC” and I got to see some of the prime time games. I admired Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, most of the centers.