Worry about winning not petty issues

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Charming is not a word one often associates with the Raptors.

But there it is, in black and white, actually in green ink, inside the pages of the Benetton Basketball Club media guide: "The Toronto Raptors are one of the most famous and charming teams in the NBA."

ANOTHER SCANDAL

Perhaps charming, in Italian, translates to mediocre and dysfunctional.

Hell, the regular season hasn't begun and there's yet another scandal in the works. Forget Vince Carter wanting to be traded. That's old, though still unresolved, news.

Now comes word that team morale is suffering because of a new series of outrages perpetuated against the players:

- The Raptors family room is available only to wives, common-law wives, siblings and parents of the players, although a team spokesperson set the record straight yesterday. It appears some exceptions to that rule will be made.

- There was no food on the team bus or locker room during a recent exhibition game in London, Ont.

- The players will receive only one pair of orthotics for their shoes.

- There is no parking spot at the ACC for Vince Carter's mom.

Raptors general manager Rob Babcock refused to comment yesterday when asked about this controversy, adding only that he is pleased with team morale, and such issues will remain "in-house."

But Babcock must remain vigilant. In the modern world of professional sport, petty things can and do result in mutinies and team play suffers. And a team that hasn't made the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, and didn't make many changes in the off-season, can't afford not to have all guns blazing. That means that Babcock and head coach Sam Mitchell will have to bend over backward to keep these guys happy.

Sad and pathetic? Or course. But what do you expect?

Pro sport is all about distractions. Players and owners get rich and spoiled, the fans get it up the yazoo, and often they don't even know it.

On a typical night at the Air Canada Centre, there are explosions, young women swaying in musical unison, an announcer screaming at the top of his lungs and a distant relative of Barney flipping and flopping around the floor. Mixed in with all this excitement are 10 large men trying to insert a ball into a basket. And it's an unbridled hit. Those of us with limited intellect leave the venue entertained, albeit with a ringing in the ears.

What was it Stalin once decreed? Give the masses their vodka and cigarettes and they won't rebel. Pro sports is, perhaps, a modern version of that same theme.

Distract the fans from their dreary lives with a sensory attack and watch them clap and applaud like trained seals.

It's all designed, or so one theory goes, to prevent the great unwashed in the stands from stepping back and actually taking a good look at what really is going on.

Guys gets paid millions of dollars to play a game, travel on chartered flights and stay in the best hotels, and if an in-flight croissant is a bit stale, all hell breaks loose.

Is that not grating? You want to pay $125 to watch these prima donnas?

TIME TO MOVE ON

Chris Bosh, one of the more thoughtful guys on the Raptors, even though he is only 20, acknowledge yesterday that it is time to leave behind issues of parking spaces and family rooms and begin concentrating on something new and exciting.

Like winning basketball games. That's Babcock's Job 1. And he obviously has his work cut out for him with these guys.


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