Pascal Siakam has gone on a pretty incredible journey over the last decade, going from a relative unknown in Cameroon to an NBA champion, All-Star, and max player for the Toronto Raptors. However, with that rapid rise to stardom comes a shift in expectations, and when Siakam and the Raptors stumbled a year ago while playing a season in Tampa due to the pandemic, the discussion about Siakam changed considerably.
Rather than being about his considerable growth from when he entered the league to becoming an All-Star and one of the Raptors three best players on a title team, it became questions and doubt about whether he was capable of being “the guy” in Toronto as they clearly began looking towards the future. With Kyle Lowry gone, Siakam and Fred VanVleet are now the faces of the Raptors, and with that comes a different level of scrutiny, something Siakam admitted was difficult for him to deal with initially.
Trade rumors began picking up about Siakam last year and, while they’ve quieted recently, he admitted in an interview with Sopan Deb of the New York Times that it was a struggle, if for nothing else than it was one of the first times he’s really had to deal with negativity around him in the NBA.
Yeah. I think it is. Definitely. And I think it’s something that I’ll probably definitely struggle with. You know? And I think even just like the negativity about my name. For me, it was weird. Because I’m like, “Damn.” I’m such a positive person, the people that know me. People see my story, understand where I come from and all the things that I’ve been able to achieve so far in my career. It has always been about positivity, right? It’s always like good things. “How can you hate this person”-type of thing.
I think for me, just seeing the negativity and all the slanders about me, it just made me feel some type of way, obviously, to be honest. It was just kind of disappointing and just kind of like, “Man.” I really did feel like just me going through tough times, it’s not going to change everything, right? I felt like we were connected. And obviously I understand like, man, this is a sport, right? You get paid the big bucks. You get paid to perform. I get that and I understand it.
Siakam would go on to say he feels his relationship with the Raptors is getting back where it was previously and that he sees himself in Toronto long-term (and that he never felt it was a situation where Toronto wanted to get rid of him), but that some of the things said by fans really hurt, particularly comments that referenced his late father. It is an unfortunate byproduct of becoming a star in the NBA that the target on your back grows larger and a small, but vocal group of fans will cross the line with comments and attacks.
Hopefully Siakam is able to bounce back after offseason shoulder surgery in 2021-22 to prove those doubts about his abilities to be a No. 1 wrong. Doing that will require him to be able to find that same positive energy that fueled his rise, which means blocking out some of the noise around him and for fans to understand where the line is between criticism of play and personal attacks.