Two hours before the start of Sunday night’s NBA all-star game, they did a dummy run of the broadcast.
TNT host Ernie Johnson was interviewing an NBA executive (stood in for by a production assistant) and imaginary game MVP Kyle Lowry (another production assistant) on the Air Canada Centre court.
“How are you feeling?” Johnson said.
“I’m so excited,” the assistant said, sounding like she was in danger of nodding off.
“Is it always zero degrees on Saturdays in Toronto?” Johnson wondered.
“Today, it is negative 7!” ‘Lowry’ said, suddenly excited.
On those rare occasions when America turns her lonely gaze north, there are things we’d like her to notice. Barring those, we’d just like her to notice, period.
After a great deal of effort expended trying to get the only all-star game that qualifies as glamorous, that worked out. Sort of. As it ends, there is a small feeling that the midseason NBA carnival – the first held outside the United States – amounted to a lingering pat on the head from our friends down south.
(This wasn’t helped by the appearance of Cirque du Soleil in the pregame festivities. I turned to the two Americans sitting alongside me in press row and said, “This is another terrible stereotype. Canadians are not as obsessed with Cirque du Soleil as it seems.”
“Really?” one of them said suspiciously. “Because you put them on every time.”)
First, there was the cold. If you live outside Toronto, you will have spent most of this weekend laughing at us, and rightly so. It was -23 C on Saturday (which, note to Johnson, is -9 F). It isn’t picnic weather, but it’s also not The Day After Tomorrow.
Up until this point, I’d thought Torontonians were the greatest meteorological sucks on the continent. And then America showed up.
Oh dear Lord, the whinging. Every news conference, every availability, every time anyone stepped in front of a microphone, or better yet, a Canadian, the temperature had to be acknowledged in a joking-but-not-joking way. Was this really new information to Americans – that, owing to the tilt of the Earth, the temperatures tend to be lower in the north? These people discovered gravitational waves, but the whole the-further-we-are-from-the-sun concept escapes them?
Fortunately, Canada has mastered the technology involved in warming all sorts of indoor spaces – hotel rooms, luxury suites, strip clubs. Even cars! So no NBA star or wealthy hanger-on expired while enjoying the good life at 70 cents on the dollar.
Mission accomplished, Toronto. Mission accomplished.
Amid all the phony basketball that preceded the big phony basketball game, there were a few notable cross-border interactions.
Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, a Montrealer by way of Texas, was the MVP of the celebrity game. Maybe you saw it. If so, seek help. Maybe your family can have a cable-cutting intervention.
After the game, Butler turned into that very Canadian type – the uppity socialist scold – during an ESPN interview. He’s only been here 15 years. I’m amazed he held out this long.
As soon as the words “health care” escaped Butler’s mouth, interviewer Sage Steele shut that sucker down: “We’re talking about celebrity stuff, not politics.”
Thank God for her. If not for Steele’s intervention, literally dozens of stateside viewers of ESPN Celebrity Stuff would have been exposed to some very dangerous ideas.
Just as it looked as if we might find our Big Friendly American – (Russell Westbrook? No. LeBron James? No. Kobe Bryant? Heeeeeell, no.) – NBA commissioner Adam Silver appeared.
Silver’s time in the top job coincides almost precisely with the Toronto Raptors’ rise through the standings. Maybe that’s why he seems vaguely talismanic for this city.
Over a weekend that offered little in terms of off-court drama (it was too cold for that), Silver was omnipresent. He was at every inconsequential gathering for just a few minutes before he headed off to another. His seeming main function was reminding Toronto that it belonged.
“It’s a basketball town,” Silver said in the pregame broadcast.
It shouldn’t matter that much. Toronto’s a basketball town by virtue of having a professional basketball team. But it does. Sometimes it feels nice to hear what you already know, but from the top man.
The Raptors have been in business for 20 years, but they haven’t really arrived yet. South of 49, the entire organization can be summed up as a memory of Vinsanity, a few flashes of Chris Bosh and the sense that, right now, they’re not that bad. That’s it.
That’s why Lowry and DeMar DeRozan spent most of the past week repping Canada as though they were selling timeshares. Nobody seemed to care very much.
It’s been amusing watching two guys from L.A. and Philadelphia getting a small sense of what it’s like for local players and fans when confronted by American basketball paternalism. The way we treat them about hockey and health care, they treat us about everything else.
For once, we got to turn that around for a couple of hours.
After all the players were introduced and had their hug with Drake (notable holdouts: Westbrook and Bryant), it was left to Citizen No. 1 to declare the main event started.
“My name is Drake. This is the best game with the best players, finally in the best city in the world.”
The game will fade as soon as it’s over. Saturday’s remarkable dunk contest, perhaps the best ever, might linger in the sport’s collective memory. That it was held in Toronto has already been forgotten.
If the all-star game is to have any true legacy beyond being a decent bash, it will be felt in April and May. That’s if the Raptors can manage to do what they’ve never done – make a real run into the postseason.
Should that happen, this weekend was the preparty. If not, this was just another opportunity for Americans to meet us again for the first time.Report Typo/Error