Morris Peterson recalls vividly the emotions that hit him the first time he came back to play at the Air Canada Centre after his days as a Toronto Raptor had ended.
He kissed the Raptors logo at centre court that night back in 2008, despite the fact that he was suiting up for the New Orleans Hornets. He had played seven seasons here and had been a fan favourite from the day he was drafted, but Mo Pete's role with the team had shrunk, and the Raptors let him slip away into free agency.
He had once hoped to finish his career in Toronto, and today – in a way – he's getting that chance. TSN has added the now-retired swingman to its Raptors television broadcasts as an analyst. When Peterson donned a suit and tie, along with a pair of chic dark-rimmed glasses, and debuted before the cameras in Toronto last week, he got some of that old feeling back.
In fact, Peterson can't cross the street without people stopping him. The long-time ACC parking attendant outside leaped up and hugged him on his first day back. "I started my career here – they were the first people to take a chance on me," Peterson said during a courtside interview at the ACC. "I could have gone other places to broadcast, but they don't take care of you in other places like they do at home. It's been 15 years since I was drafted here, and I feel like Toronto is giving me a second chance."
The Raptors drafted him 21st overall in 2000, just after the native of Flint, Mich., helped lead Michigan State to an NCAA men's basketball title. His 542 games as a Raptor remain the most of anyone in franchise history, as are the 801 three-pointers he made.
While long-range shooting and perimeter defence were his biggest assets, he's also remembered for pulling off some improbable circus plays. He once made highlight reels across the NBA when, while he was driving to the basket, a defender swatted his headband down over his eyes – yet he still made the no-look layup. In 2007, trailing the Washington Wizards by three points with 3.8 seconds left, a Wizard tossed the ball high in the air to burn the clock, but Peterson grabbed it and then launched a buzzer-beating Hail Mary to send the game into overtime. Toronto went on to win.
"He's one of the most popular Raptors in history, and fans always loved him for leaving it all on the floor," said TSN basketball analyst Leo Rautins. He is bringing some of that work ethic to his new job, Rautins added: "Sometimes former players think they can wing it as broadcasters, or that just showing up is enough. Mo has already shown that he comes really well-prepared and he wants to be very good at this."
Peterson played on a few good Raptors teams that made playoffs, and some abysmal ones too, before he got inconsistent minutes in 2007. His contract expired, so he went to New Orleans, then to Oklahoma City until 2011.
Today he and his wife Tara are parents to two sets of twins – three girls and a boy, all under five. Back in Flint, where he still resides, he recently bought a 70,000-square-foot building, where he plans to start a clothing company called World Artist Refuge.
"I bought the building to bring some jobs back to Flint's economy – I'm hoping like 50, 60 jobs to start off," said Peterson. "Fashion is a passion for me. I've been involved in fashion since 2000, going to trade shows, trying to learn the business."
The style part well in hand, Peterson studied broadcasting by sitting in with others, including his close friend and former MSU teammate Mateen Cleaves, now a basketball analyst with CBS and Fox Sports Detroit. Peterson will also work on TSN's March Madness coverage in studio, joining Rautins, Jack Armstrong, Rod Black and Matt Devlin.
During a preseason trip to Toronto, he watched young NBA players such as Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph practising with Canada Basketball, kids who had grown up watching the long-time Raptor.
"They gave me some Basketball Canada shorts and T-shirts, and even though I'm not from Canada, I feel like a Canadian, like Toronto is home," said Peterson. "I'm kind of an honorary Canadian I guess."