Damon Stoudamire turned 41 yesterday. Because he’s officially in his 40’s, we take a look back at his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors, in which he won Rookie of the Year and led the expansion team to a victory over Michael Jordan and a Chicago Bulls team that ended up winning 72 games in the regular season. At the time, it was the highlight of Stoudamire’s career with the Raptors. It seemed like just the beginning of a long relationship between the player and the franchise. But things took a turn for the worst just a few years later.
When the Raptors selected Stoudamire with the seventh overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, fans were skeptical. The draft was held at the SkyDome in Toronto, and boos rained down because the fanbase wanted Ed O’Bannon, who had just won an NCAA championship as a senior at UCLA and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Once the season started, fans quickly warmed up to Stoudamire. Even though the Raptors only won 21 games in their inaugural season, they defeated Jordan and the Bulls in a game where Stoudamire put up 30 points and 11 assists. The post-game report from Toronto illustrated just how important this game was to the franchise at the time:
In his rookie season, Stoudamire averaged 19.0 points, 9.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He was named Rookie of the Month twice during the regular season and received 76 out of a possible 113 votes to win Rookie of the Year.
Things were looking up for Stoudamire and the Raptors. Because he had a Mighty Mouse tattoo on his arm, Stoudamire soon earned that nickname in Toronto and even got his own Nike commercial:
But in his third season in Toronto, the team went through a lot of front office turmoil when general manager Isiah Thomas attempted to buy the team and resigned from his position after his bid failed. Stoudamire, who was close to Thomas, wanted a trade and eventually got his wish when he was sent to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers seemed like a good fit since Stoudamire grew up and played high school basketball in Portland, Oregon. Because he was now on a contending team with a lot of different options, Stoudamire’s individual numbers suffered. But he was on a winning team in Portland, at least in the beginning. After several trips to the Western Conference Finals, Portland slowly became the Jail Blazers and lost their contender status in the West.
Stoudamire would end his career with brief tenures in Memphis and San Antonio. For his career, he was a 40.3 percent shooter, which ultimately prevented him from truly becoming an elite point guard. However, even with his bitter departure from Toronto, his rookie season was an exhilarating ride for a city that was just getting to know their basketball team.
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