When life presents an opportunity ...

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

O Canada may be a foreign tune for Raptors players, but this country's only NBA team has planted some deep Canadian roots.

Without using a single Canadian in regular-season play, the Raptors have made a tremendous impact on the lives of quite a few Canadians, and vice versa.

Here are 10 Canucks who have had a tight attachment with the Raptors:

On Sept. 23, 2002, Triano and the Raptors entered uncharted territory when the Niagara Falls native was hired as the first Canadian assistant coach in NBA history.

"This is great not only for myself, but for basketball in this country," Triano said that day. "Maybe this can open the door for other Canadian coaches."

Maybe, but so far it hasn't happened. What's more, Triano was canned as the national team coach on Oct. 19.

But Triano is a survivor, as he's now working with his third Raptors head coach.

TOM MAYENKNECHT

Before the Raptors were the Raptors and before the team played a game, Tom Mayenknecht was the face of the squad.

On March 10, 1994, then-owner John Bitove made Mayenknecht the team's first executive, naming him as director of communications.

On Feb. 3, 1995, armed with valuable NBA start-up experience, Mayenknecht bolted Toronto to take a vice-president of communications job with the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Now a co-owner of the National Lacrosse League's Vancouver Ravens, Mayenknecht also helped found the Team 1040 AM in Vancouver and the rebirth of the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team.

"The opportunity to become vice-president of the Grizzlies almost certainly wouldn't have presented itself if I wasn't recruited by John Bitove and the Raptors," said Mayenknecht, who brought Triano on board with the Grizzlies as director of community relations. "I owe a lot to the Raptors."

BERNIE OFFSTEIN

The unofficial commissioner of Toronto basketball, Offstein died on Jan. 19. 2004 after serving as the Raptors' security representative for the NBA since its inception.

Offstein worked with Canada Basketball, Maccabi Canada and helped out in various police activities.

He reached out to everybody in the Canadian basketball community, from high-schoolers to Steve Nash. Offstein went to Puerto Rico last summer to provide extra security for Nash at an Olympic qualifying tournament.

LEO RAUTINS

During an NBA exhibition game at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1984, Toronto's Rautins made several big shots for the Atlanta Hawks in a win over Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons.

So when Thomas was hired as vice-president of basketball operations for the Raptors in 1994, Rautins had ammunition for a job application.

"I faxed an article about that game to Isiah," Rautins said. "It said something like, 'I was on the wrong team once. You want to make sure it doesn't happen again.' "

Thomas clearly took the message to heart as Rautins was signed as the Raptors' television analyst. He remains with the team in the same role.

HERBIE KUHN

With the constant changeover in the Raptors dressing room, the loud, bald-headed public-address announcer is one of the more recognizable faces on the team.

The Torontonian was working the PA in local college gyms during the early 1990s before he landed the same job at the world basketball championship in Toronto in 1994. Brian Cooper, who hired Kuhn for the worlds, also was responsible for finding the Raptors' in-arena voice and he stayed with his man.

"Once I found out (Cooper was hiring for the Raptors), I would inform Brian where I would be announcing games, and get him to come and check me out," Kuhn said. "I guess my persistence paid off."

Kuhn now has public speaking gigs and the Raptors have held several Kuhn lookalike contests.

MIKE INGLIS

As the play-by-play radio voice for the Indiana Pacers in 1987, the Toronto-raised Humber College graduate was broadcasting to a basketball-crazy state.

Things were a bit different in Toronto when Inglis called the first Raptors game in 1995 on CFRB.

"We sat down and thought about ways we could explain stuff, maybe even using hockey terminology," Inglis said. "In basketball, if you say dribble drive from the elbow, people might think what the hell is that guy doing with his elbow."

Inglis did a nice job for the Raptors' first three seasons on CFRB before the team shifted its radio rights to The Fan 590. But things turned out just fine for Inglis, who was hired as play-by-play man for the Miami Heat. He signed a five-year contract extension in 2001.

HEATHER BIRD

As a Toronto Sun columnist, Bird was invited to a luxury box for a Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre, along with several media colleagues, on Halloween in 1998. Also on hand was then-Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald.

Bird made a point of striking up a conversation with Grunwald and just over a month later, they went on their first lunch date. One thing led to another and Bird and Grunwald tied the knot on Sept. 15, 2001 at the King Edward Hotel.

Their first child, Willis, was born July 20, 2002.

"I told Vince Carter his rookie year was my rookie year," Bird said. "I had no idea (what the NBA was like) when I started dating Glen, but as I got older and wiser and looked at the schedule, you started figuring out this (date) is in, this day is out. It becomes a part of your life."

Grunwald was fired in the spring and the couple has enjoyed more time together since then.

"It's a relief not living and dying with every bounce of the ball," Bird said. "We can go out on weekends now."

NAV BHATIA

The president of Hyundai of Mississauga, Bhatia has become recognizable in Toronto because of his two courtside season tickets behind the net (cost: $560 each).

Bhatia, who hasn't missed a home game, also has four platinum season tickets (cost: $180 each).

That means Bhatia, who moved to Toronto from his native India 20 years ago, is shelling out more than $70,000 for basketball tickets each season.

"My wife tells me, 'If you weren't a basketball junkie, we'd have our home paid off,' " Bhatia said.

Fair enough, but Bhatia's devotion to the Raptors has landed him big clients. He organizes all transportation for Vince Carter, who invited Bhatia to his wedding this past summer, and has sold several cars to Jamaal Magloire.

TRAVIS AGRESTI

Vince Carter was chilling at Fluid nightclub a few years ago when he first met Agresti, a Newmarket native who was a manager at the club at the time.

Over time, they became friends and Agresti, 23, opened Inside Nightclub in the heart of the entertainment district in 2001. Carter attended the grand opening and liked the spot. Within two years, he became partners with Agresti in Inside.

The club has played host to the likes of Prince, Justin Timberlake, Barry Bonds, Michael Jordan and Chris Rock.

"It has been fantastic," Agresti said. "Vince has added another element to (Inside). Because Vince is involved, more celebrities are more likely to drop by when they are in town."

JAMAAL MAGLOIRE

Okay, Magloire hasn't played for the Raptors. But the Toronto player's first local exposure to the NBA came when he was finishing off at Eastern Commerce high school in 1995.

The New Orleans Hornets all-star centre didn't attend a Raptors game as a fan, but he remembers watching the NBA entry draft and many Raptors games on television.

"I thought it was very good to see the NBA bringing basketball internationally at the time," Magloire said. "It made me think there are a lot more resources and a lot more ways of getting access into the NBA. It was a good inspiration for the kids."

Having Toronto in the league is a bonus for Magloire.

"(Playing in Toronto) is always an incentive to play well," he said. "Toronto's my favourite trip, my favourite city and it's so beautiful. It gives me a chance to play in front of my family."


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