Welcome to Seven Questions or Less, a new series on Dime in which we ask people from the world of music to talk about their basketball fandom. Recently we sat down with Steve Sladkowski, who plays guitar in the band Pup — their 2019 release Morbid Stuff is a nominee for Alternative Album of the Year at next month’s JUNO Awards — and is a gigantic Toronto Raptors fan.
1. What is your favorite basketball memory?
It has to be the Finals, it’s gotta be. I was actually in Toronto — you know what, I’ll give you one where I wasn’t at the game and one where I was at the game, they’re both from that Finals run.
I was lucky enough to be in Toronto when they won, so I was with a bunch of friends, bars were looking the other way on most things so we had champagne in the bar that we brought ourselves. Just to be able to be with my friends and in the city that I grew up in and actually saw them winning that championship was really, really special, and obviously that’s not even talking about the game itself — Kyle Lowry going nuts and kinda showing what I think Toronto fans have known for a long time, but kinda showing that he is an incredible talent and, I think, someone who really should be considered for the Basketball Hall of Fame. And obviously Kawhi and just sort of seeing the end of that season.
And then the in-person one, I was at Game 6 against the Bucks when they closed it out, so getting to see them win the Eastern Conference was really amazing. And then I also saw, I believe, it was against Memphis, the tribute video that finally bridged the divide when they ran that video tribute to Vince that brought him to tears, which was pretty special. I’m really hoping that he signs a one-day at the end of this season to retire as a Toronto Raptor because I think he really, at the end of the day, an important part of the franchise.
2. Who was your favorite player growing up and why?
It was Chris Bosh. That would probably right around the time that I was trying to play basketball … well, and Dirk Nowitzki, probably those two, because I was a taller forward-type, even though there weren’t any actual tall people in my high school — we weren’t a great basketball team. Bosh was with the Raptors, so he was the best player on my favorite team. And I dunno man, there was something about Dirk that was just awesome. He was a big guy who could shoot, I felt like he could do it all. I would have been in high school when the Mavs won that title, just to see him take down Bosh and take down LeBron, it was a cool time to be watching the NBA when I was growing up.
3. Who is the biggest villain in your basketball fan story?
LeBron James. It’s so much easier to watch him now given, a) The fact that they won as soon as he left and, b) Just, like, I always knew, clearly, that if you watch basketball you know that LeBron James is special, but it made me viscerally angry that he was so special when he was, like, pretending to drink a beer during the Eastern Conference Finals, or shooting over Ibaka, I think his famous “sometimes two points is more than two points,” I think he said that about the Toronto Raptors, the LeBronto thing, all this … ugh, god.
Now he’s on the Lakers and it’s like, “Oh, yeah, LeBron, he’s great!” I watched him last night and it was awesome.
[I imagine the weight that was lifted, like you said, once he left and they got over the hump, now do you feel like you can appreciate watching him in a way you couldn’t while he was in Cleveland and Miami?]
Yeah, 100 percent. It’s night and day. I know we had to sacrifice DeMar DeRozan to get there, but it is what it is.
4. What’s the most memorable game you ever attended?
Those two. I’m trying to think, I mean any time you can see playoff basketball, that was something that only in the last couple of years have I been able to get to. I’ve seen them play the Bucks a couple of times, this year I became a partial season-ticket holder, so it’s been really exciting. I was at the Kawhi game, too, that was pretty special, I was really glad that the fans treated Kawhi the way he should be treated, which is as a god, because that’s what he did in this city. That was cool, too.
I think it speaks to how great the franchise is and the importance of the run that the Raptors are on right now, and I would include this year as part of that. But some of the best memories that I’ve had as a fan of the Toronto Raptors, I remember seeing this team play at the SkyDome in the 90s. The best games, the best memories, have been on this We The North run, some of the best sporting experiences, as a lifelong Torontonian, I’ve ever experienced. I remember the Jays marching to ALCSes the past couple of years and I remember 92 and 93 just barely. The excitement is somehow more, and it speaks to how a lot of people thought that Canada was a hockey country, but I think it really is, especially in Toronto, becoming more and more a basketball country.
5. What do you think of the team this season?
I love it, man. It’s kind of the perfect mix of championship swagger and Alex Wong (ed. note — you can read some of Alex’s work for Dime right here!) has a really good bit going about never underestimating the heart of a champion in regards to the Toronto Raptors, which I think is great. And again, I think a guy like Kyle Lowry defines this in such a perfect way, somehow the Raptors are discounted or underdogs again this year even though as I looked at the standings again this morning, I believe they’re in [second] place in the conference, and the defending NBA champions.
I think it was the kind of thing where a lot of Raptors fans looked at OG Anunoby and were kind of like, “Alright, he had a weird year last year, and he’s ready to make an impact,” and the way he’s been defending is incredible. I think Kyle Lowry, Fred, they are a two-headed monster, Pascal has been amazing, I like the juice that Serge has been bringing, I think Serge has played really, really well. I dunno man, I think this team can surprise some people, and it doesn’t seem to me that it would be all that much of a shock to Raptors fans to see them back in the Eastern Conference Finals.
6. What’s the most surreal moment you’ve experienced involving a current or former player?
Honestly, I haven’t had that many run-ins. Against the Rockets a few weeks back, I got a chance to hang out afterward and got to stand around with Chris Boucher, which was kinda cool, Slimmduck himself. I actually haven’t had that many run-ins with players.
7. In your eyes, who is the most important player in franchise history?
Kyle Lowry. I think there’s a big inferiority complex about free agents leaving and draft picks not every going to stay here and not ever being able to realize their full potential. And I think DeMar should be mentioned in this conversation, too, but obviously, since he’s been traded, not only did Kyle come here — he came via a trade — but I don’t know if this ever resonated, but people thought Kawhi didn’t want to play in Toronto when that trade happened. There was stuff going around in Raptors Twitter and in some columns written by sportswriters saying that maybe Kawhi won’t play. That, to me, more than anything, is proof of the damaged psyches of Toronto basketball fans.
Not only did Kyle kind of become the best version of Kyle Lowry as a Toronto Raptor, he has repeatedly shown himself to be a pillar of the community and actually given back and cared about Toronto, and he stayed here! He signed contracts to stay here to become the face of the franchise. He gives out turkeys to underprivileged and low-income families every Thanksgiving, he’s an affable face and leader, and he’s the kind of athlete that Toronto sports fans love because he has a hockey mentality — he’s a grinder, he’s intense, he’s blue collar, he has all of the characteristic of hockey players that the Toronto media market just laps up.
And I think Toronto loves someone who is underrated, or who in the greater community of basketball, doesn’t necessarily appreciate, and I think somehow, even though he’s an NBA champion and a six-time All-Star, somehow Kyle Lowry doesn’t get the respect he deserves, which just fuels his legend in Toronto. I honestly think his number will be retired, I don’t think anyone will wear No. 7 again for the Toronto Raptors, and I think it’ll be retired ahead of Vince Carter’s. He’s just been such an integral part of the franchise’s growth to respectability, and … I dunno, man. He’s Kyle Lowry. I don’t know if you know about KLOE, that’s Kyle Lowry Over Everything, which is a rallying cry for Raptors Twitter whenever Lowry does that thing where a ref makes a call he doesn’t like, or the opponent’s bench talks trash one time to him, or a fan does something he doesn’t like and you look and all of a sudden he has 28 points and 10 assists and has taken three charges and all of a sudden the Raptors are up 12. That’s, like, a classic Kyle Lowry. When I think about it, that’s the kind of stuff I’m gonna think about, they call it poking the bear on the telecast.
Sorry, that’s long-winded, but I can talk about Kyle Lowry forever. He’s the best.