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The Hedo Situation February 7, 2010

Posted by dczarum in Uncategorized.
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His nickname is the “Turkish Jordan”. It’s a moniker that suggests that he’s, like Michael to the Americans, exponentially better than any of his fellow countrymen. And while Hedo Turkoglu is very likely the best basketball player in all of Turkey, amongst NBA players he is frustratingly average.

Like a kid who’s natural ability allows them to bullshit their way through guitar lessons or algebra class, Turkoglu, to this point, has seemingly floated his way through 10 seasons that saw both individual (Most Improved Player, 2008) and team success (playoff appearances in seven seasons). Through it all, though, his work ethic has repeatedly come into question.  Oddly, when someone exercises such seemingly little effort, as Turkoglu does, while still yielding results, there’s a tendency to just assume they possess some sort of supreme natural talent. The potential to harness this provides an especially attractive “what if” for GM’s league-wide, which made Hedo a valuable commodity during the 2009 free-agent market.

Still, Turkoglu’s carefree demeanour left a lot to be desired and served as a major red flag to any potential suitor, to say nothing of his pregame pizza intake. Unsurprisingly, since signing with the Raptors, a popular pizza chain has immortalized his pizza habit in a memorable advertising campaign. It has proved to be Hedo Turkoglu’s most significant contribution in a Raptors uniform.

Though the team has been winning of late, Hedo’s averages of 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4 assists remain uninspiring. Beyond a perceived lack of effort and undefined role within the team, Turks’ greatest obstacle to success is his ego, fuelled by the $53 million owed to him over the next five years. Hedo Turkoglu’s inflated self-perception is, dare I say, Situation-esque. Armed with a contract usually bestowed upon borderline franchise players, Turk honestly believes that he deserves to be the offensive focal point of his team. Don’t take my word for it: when asked in a post game interview to what he would attribute his strong play (26 points, 11 boards, 50% shooting) in a recent win over the Knicks, Turkoglu responded with one word, “Ball”. I may not speak Turkish Neanderthal, but I think the message was clear.

In the last few days, the Hedo situation appears to have worsened, thanks to a recent injury to his right orbital bone. Despite his employers (read: Bryan Colangelo) and doctor’s insistence, Hedo is refusing to wear a standard protective mask, stating bluntly “I appreciate all the concern, but I’m a grown man… and I decide not to wear. Just try to focus on my game, not on my face.” Fair enough.

While normally I would applaud any scenario that combines the comedy of arrogant pro basketball ethics with broken English, the Raptors have too much invested in Hedo for me to just laugh it off. Hedo Turkoglu can be a coveted piece in the Raptors puzzle, barring he accepts his place on the totem pole under players like Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and maybe even Jarrett Jack. Ulimately, the immediate future of Canada’s lone NBA team lies in the hands of the “Turkish Jordan”, and I couldn’t be more terrified.

Chris Bosh and the Canadian Shield January 18, 2010

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The NBA is predicated on the star system. Current TNT analyst and former player Charles Barkley preaches that the optimum way to experience NBA basketball as a fan is essentially to identify the best players and follow their every move. David Stern probably feels the same way. Since he became commissioner of the league in 1984, Stern has been publicly forthright with his plan to model the NBA after the Disney Corporation, creating a business model in which the players are the product. Michael Jordan was Mickey, Magic and Bird were Donald Duck and Goofy, Barkley was Tigger…you get the idea. Twenty-Five years and a new cast of characters later, NBA marketing still favours great players over great teams. These days, Kobe and Lebron are Woody and Buzz Lightyear, Dwyane Wade is Simba, Dirk Notwitzki is Hannah Montana, and Shaq is the Genie from Aladin(obviously). Sadly, in this model, the all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and FT’s for your Toronto Raptors, Chris Bosh, is perennially overlooked.

We should have realized that Bosh was going to be a great player when, in his tenth NBA game, he carried the Raptors to a double OT win over the Houston Rockets, scoring 25 points that included a key 3-pointer at the buzzer. Bosh was far from a complete product, but he stood out to the point that it was clear he was the future of the basketball in Canada and worthy of Mickey Mouse status. The Raps shipped off Vince Carter accordingly to officially usher in the Chris Bosh Era (revisionist history, I know). In the years that followed, Bosh continued to improve, adding multiple All-Star appearances to his suddenly impressive resume, culminating in what we currently witness on a nightly basis: a consistent superstar who puts up 29 points and 13 rebounds as routinely as Snookie takes it in the face. Further, Bosh is a great ambassador for the NBA, someone who my grandfather describes as seeming “articulate and well-read”. That has to count for something, right?

Well, not really. Despite his on-court brilliance, Bosh won’t be starting the All-Star game for the third straight year because of a lack of fan votes, losing out to established veterans like Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson. Why is Bosh consistently overlooked? Because he plays in Toronto. In a league with teams in 29 cities, only three (Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago) boast a larger media market than Toronto. Yet, the Raptors are almost always an NBA afterthought because they exist in a foreign country. Sad, but true. With an average of zero to two games per season broadcasted on American television, the Raps are amongst the least watched teams. The lack of U.S. exposure might not make any difference on the court, but it speaks to why players like Bosh have historically failed to get the recognition they deserve. Let’s call this phenomenon the Canadian Shield.

While universally known as 8 million squared kilometres of Precambrian rock, from a sporting perspective the Shield refers to athletes or teams in the Canadian sports landscape that slip under the radar outside of the Great White North. How else can you explain Roberto Alomar falling eight votes shy of a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame? Can you name me a better second baseman? For CB4, it wasn’t until the Beijing Olympics when, upon watching the U.S. men’s basketball team win the gold boasting a ‘best five’ of Bosh, Lebron, ‘Melo, Kobe, and Wade, American fans realized just how good Bosh is. Chris Bosh should be considered the next great Power Forward, taking over from an ageing Tim Duncan, but that’s just not the case. Granted, Boshs’ profile as an elite player has rose this season, fuelled by stellar play and rumours of him playing elsewhere next year and beyond. He may never be an A1 Alpha-dog in the mould of Duncan, or even contemporaries like James or Wade, but the look on Chris Bosh’ face during Raptors game screams of someone who recognizes the presence of the Canadian Shield and decidedly wants out from under it. After all, there’s no Shield in Miami. Or Houston. Or Dallas. Or… you get the point.