January 4, 2012
Thompson more Nash than Magloire
Tristan Thompson has a chance to be everything Jamaal Magloire has chosen not to be for Canadian basketball.
It’s really just a matter of choice.
This is just the beginning for Thompson, the relaxed kid from Brampton clearly enjoying his initial trip to the Air Canada Centre as an NBA player. He has been here before, just not like this. Then he wore a Raptors jersey, cheered for Vince Carter, sat in $10 Sprite Zone seats with his dad, went to the free practice at what was then SkyDome: Was a Damon Stoudamire fan before this building was even constructed. He reminisced about all that Wednesday night, as much as any teenager can really reminisce. But there is a comfort to this young man, a comfort and a natural charm, that can benefit Canadian basketball for years to come.
And he wants to be the guy. There is no reluctance in him. He wants to be the face, the name, the Toronto symbol for a sport in need of a national symbol not named Steve Nash. This isn’t any shot at Nash, the Bret Hart of Canadian basketball. Nash is the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be. It’s just, Nash isn’t local and he’s not necessarily current and he doesn’t translate to the Thompson generation. He’s that old white guy, who used to be the MVP.
Now the mantle is open and the new wave is coming. There has never been a group of emerging Canadian basketball players like the one coming now. It begins with Thompson, the fourth pick in last June’s NBA Draft, the first of two first-round picks from Canada this year, and there will be more on the way.
The kid is so optimistic he believes Canada can still get into this summer’s Olympic Games — sorry, they can’t — but for 2016 in Brazil there are all kinds of enticing possibilities for whomever ends up as the next national team coach.
Toronto has been an NBA franchise for 17 years and is still finding itself. There have been moments to remember but too many to forget. And in that time, the West Coast’s Nash won two MVP awards and was the stand alone symbol for Canadian basketball, the point guard who twirled the globe on his finger and almost took on the world by himself. But he needed help.
And the help should have come from Toronto’s Magloire, the Eastern Commerce kid who was a high school phenom and is now in his 12th NBA season. The remarkable thing about Magloire: He has been a solid if uninteresting contributor in the league but he has made no inroads in this market, has next to no national profile, has chosen by his own inaction to be little more than a conversation without traction.
From Magloire, there has been nothing but reluctance for Canadian basketball, where he has played the part of Dr. No. It hasn’t mattered how or when he was asked to play for Canada — the answer was always no. The question was asked in different ways and at different times, but it was never really answered satisfactorily.
Do you want to play for Canada, he was asked again and again. The answer, if he bothered giving one that wasn’t convoluted, always came up being no. Twelve years in the NBA and there was always a reason. A contract situation. An injury. His dog ate his homework. There was always a story, just never one that was articulated to anyone in any way meaningful way. In a sport in which Kobe Bryant plays for his country, Manu Ginobili plays for his, Tony Parker plays for his, Dirk Nowitzki and Pao Gasol and Andrea Bargnani, play for theirs, you get the picture.
On Wednesday, almost comically, Magloire was talking about his legacy. His legacy, to me, is nothing but unwillingness.
“The responsibility is placed on myself and Cory (Joseph) and we greatly accept that,” said Thompson. “We feel it’s only right that we do ... (Nash) has done so much for this country and now it’s Cory and myself’s turn to carry the torch.”
At courtside during the warmups Wednesday were two former national team coaches, Leo Rautins and Jay Triano, the two of them watching Thompson warm up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, each of them seeing the possibilities for the future. “With his personality, with his demeanour, with his game, he can do it. He has to want to do it,” said Triano. “Tristan is at the forefront of this new wave of players.”
He can be everything Jamaal Magloire should have been — and a whole lot more.