While Team USA goes for the gold in the Beijing Olympics, we’re digging into the Dime archives for a closer look at the players who will make it happen. For the duration of the Games, we’ll be re-running some of our best Dime Magazine feature stories on DimeMag.com.
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Toronto is tomb-like quiet on a March Tuesday. Sparse signs of life stir downtown, the city’s signature slinking traffic that chokes the Gardiner Expressway in and out of the city seemingly at all hours of the day inching along. The atmosphere is the same inside the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Raptors and the NHL’s Maple Leafs. Scattered team officials scurry about their business in hushed tones; there is palpable tension in the hallways and elevators.
The reason for the tension is two-fold. The previous night saw first-year Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa, an integral piece of the team’s potential playoff success, fall victim to a ghastly season-ending leg injury in Boston. The second reason — and by far the most important locally if you listen to the conversation in Toronto sports bars, tune in to Toronto sports-talk radio or read the sports pages of the Toronto Globe and Mail — is that there’s a Leafs game here tonight that is a must-win if they have any shot at making the NHL playoffs. Nevermind that their NBA squad, surging back from the brink of basketball oblivion, not only has Toronto back in the NBA playoffs for the first time in five years, but also saw them lock up an Atlantic Division championship right before this issue went to press.
In a way, it is understandable. First and foremost, this is a hockey city. Professional hockey laid down roots in Toronto back in 1917, and the city’s teams have blessed its fans with 13 Stanley Cups. By comparison, the Raptors’ came into existence in 1994, and the pinnacle of their playoff success came in a second round exit at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001.
Perhaps part of the gap is also in part due to the way the Raptors have gone about the most successful regular season in franchise history. They are under the radar, killin’ em softly, much like their franchise player, Chris Bosh.
Bosh is at the forefront of this Raptors renaissance, a two-time NBA All-Star (and a starter in this year’s game), flaunting a career-best 22.8 points and 10.7 boards per game this season. He is the polar opposite of Vince Carter, Raptors basketball’s first face of success. Whereas Vince — demonstrative and explosive, his game larger than life — set the League on fire during his first few seasons here, Bosh is grounded in both game and personality. He is imminently likeable, and his unassuming demeanor belies a game that is smattered with an array of lefty face-up jumpers, fadeaways and — when called for — vicious dunks.
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Dime: Maybe more than any other NBA superstar — think guys like KG, Arenas, LeBron, Kobe — you have an understated personality that’s not typical of an NBA All-Star …
Chris Bosh: By nature I’m a private guy. That’s just the way I am. I’m quiet and don’t really talk all that much. Even when I was younger, I wasn’t a talkative guy. Back then people thought I was stuck up because I didn’t say much, but that totally was never the case. I’m an observer. I let people tell me everything without having to ask a million questions. If you listen long enough, I’ve found that you learn everything you need to know about a person.
Dime: But can you lead a team with that kind of personality? Can you take the Raptors where they need to go without being an extrovert?
CB: I am quiet. There’s no getting around that. But not on the court. You can’t be quiet on the court and expect to lead. I go back and forth. I’m learning — by voice and by force.
Dime: Can you give me an example of the learning process?
CB: No matter what, it has to be positive when you’re correcting guys. And I know that not everyone does it that way, but that’s the way I need to do it. But I guess the prime example would be a general one: if something needs to be addressed I have to speak my mind. You never want to feel like, “Man, I should’ve said something…” I never want to feel like that. It’s hard. It goes against my nature, but I make myself speak my mind — so long as it’s positive.
Dime: How about in terms of being a true star in this League? How do you think your demeanor effects your status?
CB: Winning games. That’s what it boils down to. The crowd can chant “M-V-P,” your friends can tell you that you’re the MVP, but that doesn’t mean anything. You have to win. Look at Vince Carter. How does everyone know him? Yeah, he’s a great player, but he’s also been on winning teams most of his career.
Dime: Do you feel that you can really break through playing in Canada, instead of doing your thing in a New York, an L.A. or a Chicago?
CB: That’s a fair question, but I think being in Toronto actually helps out in that sense. It’s a global city. There are people in this city from all over the world. Our games are nationally televised across Canada. That’s a double bonus for me and for the guys on this team. You can be in Vancouver and watch Raptor games. Plus, because we have a global team, people around the world keep up with us.
Dime: Do you ever feel like you’re out of the NBA loop playing here, though?
CB: How so?
Dime: In the sense that, yes, you’re just an hour’s flight from New York and Boston, but when you land here, you know you’re in another country. You play for the only non-U.S.-based NBA franchise — a relatively “new” city in the League — and maybe it’s just American ignorance, but I feel like a lot of U.S. citizens would have trouble finding Toronto on a map.
CB: I don’t think so; I don’t feel like I’m out of the loop at all. The NBA experience definitely differs from city to city, but, I mean, is Sacramento out of the loop? Is Orlando? Is Dallas? The loop is all 30 teams in this League. The travel is all the same for everyone; the games are all the same for everyone; the arenas are all the same for everyone. If you’re in, you’re in.
Dime: When we were talking about you in the office prior to this photo shoot, one of the topics that came up was the belief that some American players are scared off from signing with the Raptors due to the heavy Canadian income tax. Does that ever cause a problem? Does it ever cross your mind?
CB: No, that never crosses my mind. Guys talk about it, but if you’re not a Canadian citizen, you’re not gonna get that tax. Guys don’t do their research. It’s really not a factor.
Dime: Are you comfortable here?
CB: I’m comfortable now, but it did take getting acquainted for me. The hardest thing was the cold weather. Man, I’m from Texas, so that was a big change for me. But that would have been a big change for me no matter what, no matter where I went. I could have ended up in Minnesota or something and I’d be telling you the same thing.
Dime: Tell me about coming up in Texas. Where did you learn to play? Who taught you the game?
CB: It started with my old man, watching him play in church and rec leagues. I was there watching him as soon as I was able to walk. Don’t really remember the very first time I went to the gym, I just remember being there. That was back when he was in shape and could play pretty good.
It had a big effect on me. That’s when I started to really love the game, but it was a gradual thing. It was like, if you’re around something so much, you naturally develop that love and respect. And that’s what I fell into; that’s all there was for me. Back then you weren’t playing for money, you were playing because you loved to play… and at the same time learning to be a man. You were getting pushed around by big kids and you had to learn how to come back hard.
Dime: When did you first realize that you could really play?
CB: To be honest, it didn’t happen for me for a while. When it did, I was well into my high school career. I considered myself to be just an average player until part way through my junior year. Until then, I was like the third option on our team. But then things started to come together and I realized that maybe I could really do something with basketball.
Dime: You were one of the four main players taken in 2003 NBA Draft, along with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. As things play out, there’s a great chance that that will draft class could be thought of as the greatest draft class of all-time. And on top of that, if you look at where your respective teams are headed, you might end up the most successful of the bunch.
CB: I don’t know about that. You know, when I first came in, to be honest, I was just happy to be in the League. But I knew we’d be a tough class to deal with because of the pre-draft workouts. Battling with all of those guys was eye-opening. And even beyond the four of us, no one knew how deep the class would be, from 1-30. Even at No. 30 — that pick was Josh Howard! Two years ago if someone told you that Josh Howard would be a key piece of the Mavs, what would you have said? That draft was unreal.
And in terms of your question about my personal success, I really just have goals. MVP. The NBA Finals for me and my team. A championship. I want to be the best leader possible. I’ll be rewarded for my team’s success. I’m not worried about it.
Dime: Was there a moment early on in your career when things started clicking for you? A game or time when you realized that you could dominate?
CB: I knew I had potential to be good faster than the average player in my second year. In January of that season, I won the Player of the Week award, averaging like 22 and 12. I played consistent ball — 20 and 10 at least — for five games in a row. That’s when I was like, “OK, I can put up consistent numbers in this League.” And if you can consistently put up numbers like that in the NBA? That’s something right there.
Dime: What do you get for winning Player of the Week? A trophy? A certificate? A call from Commissioner Stern?
CB: Ha, it’s a little trophy. Not too big. You gotta see it. It’s on my mantle at home with some other trophies.
Dime: I know that the Raptors are a young squad, but right now you’re sitting in first place in the Atlantic Division. How far can this team go?
CB: I think that the only team in the East that has separated themselves is Detroit. Two through eight, though? Anybody can beat anybody. I honestly believe that.
And the funny thing about that is that the guys in the locker room knew we would be in the hunt. We all came into training camp with that belief. People would’ve thought we were crazy if we said that at the start of the season, but we really believed that.
Dime: With winning, with success, come expectations, fair or not. And from what we’ve found, Raptors fans are among the most passionate in the NBA…
CB: The fans here can definitely be rough. Sometimes after a loss you want to be like, “Yo, look where we came from.” They want you to win every game by 20, but that’s just not going to happen in the NBA.
But that being said, this is a great place to play. When I first got here, the vets were like, “This city is great. This is one of the best cities to play playoff basketball.” And the first time I heard that home crowd? Chills.
Dime: What do you make of your team’s status in the city? It seems like the Raptors and NBA basketball is the second show in town after hockey. Just in the few days we’ve been here, even though you guys are in first place in your division and poised to make a playoff run, the only thing anyone wants to talk about is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
CB: Well, I think we’re getting there. They’ve had the Leafs a lot longer than they’ve had us. But they’ve always been basketball fans, just now they have a team to call their own. And they’re knowledgeable fans. It’s not like it’s a bunch of hockey fans here who were like, “What’s basketball?” when they dropped the franchise on them.
I know there’s a challenge ahead of me here — a great challenge. But like with every challenge in my life, I had to see it. I believe firmly in myself and in my talent.