A cast of characters

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Some of them were fan favourites. Some of them were targets for fans' abuse.

Some of them were so strange, fans didn't know what to make of them, one way or the other.

The Raptors have had their share of strange personalities through the years. What follows is a subjective list of the 10 most unique characters in Raptors history.

NATE HUFFMAN

Eyebrows were raised in basketball circles when this goofy forward, who had been playing -- and starring, supposedly -- in Israel, was signed to a two-year contract by the Raptors. Some scouts even suggested quietly that Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald should be fired on the spot. Well, the firing of Grunwald was to come eventually, and Huffman didn't last a season in Toronto. Arguably, he was one of the least motivated athletes ever to sign a multimillion-dollar contract, and that's really saying something. It ended in a mess, too, as the Raptors released Huffman after claiming he had lied to them about a pre-existing knee injury.

VINCENZO ESPOSITO

Esposito was the first Raptor, depending upon how you gauge it. He was playing in Europe when the Raptors plucked him, partially because they thought he would appeal to the large Italian community in Toronto, but mostly because they thought he could play. He couldn't. But Raptors historians never will forget that cheesy Italian music they used to play over the SkyDome loudspeaker whenever he entered the game, the time Steve Smith looked him up and down and bellowed, "Who the bleep are you?" and the time the mild-tempered Esposito made an obscene gesture toward the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

KEVIN O'NEILL

One of two coaches on this list, Kevin O'Neill was lauded as the tough leader the Raptors so desperately needed when he was hired in 2003. But almost immediately there were signs of trouble. Mere weeks after being hired, O'Neill started lobbying for a contract extension. His veiled attacks on his own roster and on the proficiency of general manager Glen Grunwald became more and more frequent. Questions about O'Neill's personal habits abounded. Ultimately, not even the firing of Grunwald toward the end of the campaign could save O'Neill's butt, and he went out in a blaze of glory, skewering the franchise for not being committed to winning.

ALVIN ROBERTSON

Robertson holds some notable Raptors records. He was the first Raptor to score a basket in the NBA. And he was the first Raptor to be arrested, thanks to an incident in the SkyDome Hotel on the eve of the Raptors' inaugural game. Nicknamed "The Raptor" by then-coach Brendan Malone, Robertson had little in common with the playful, fuzzy mascot of the same name. In casual conversation, Robertson was calm, insightful, funny, an absolute delight. On the court, however, he was an intense and frightening demon, and sadly, those tendencies occasionally followed him off the court, leading to a series of legal problems.

ACIE EARL

Imagine Earl running down the court, every body part moving in seemingly opposite and contradictory directions, like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz, badly in need of some oil. In fact, back when reporters used to be allowed to watch practice, it often was said that watching Earl and the supremely lazy Benoit Benjamin run wind sprints was more entertaining than any game. Earl was just weird, kind of quiet, kind of studious, certainly physically unusual. But until Vince Carter came along, Earl held the Raptors' record for most points in a game, scoring 40 on a bizarre and memorable night at the Fleet Center in Boston.

CARLOS ROGERS

Carlos Rogers' family life was tragic, but he retained a wide-eyed, child-like quality. He answered reporters' questions so innocently, he really had no idea how explosive his words could be. He's best known for offering a kidney to his critically ill sister, Rene. But there were many lighter moments, like when figure skating champion Elvis Stojko was being ushered around the locker room to meet the Raptors after a tough loss. It was going horribly -- most of the players didn't know who Stojko was, and didn't care -- until Rogers looked at Stojko with a spark of recognition and said, "You're that crazy bleepety-bleep who does all that crazy bleep."

OLIVER MILLER

Oh, where to begin? Miller, who was dumped upon the Raptors in the 1995 expansion draft, had tons of potential. But at times he also had tons of weight on his 6-foot-9 frame. He was a very smart player and an excellent passer, which is why teams -- including the Raptors on repeated occasions -- kept giving him a chance. During his younger days his quick wit and sharp tongue led to numerous clashes with his coaches, too. His battles with former Raptors coach Butch Carter were legendary, with Carter once claiming Miller's subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to undermine the team were "relentless." Miller, obviously, would disagree.

JEROME WILLIAMS

When Jerome Williams, the self-proclaimed Junk Yard Dog, was traded to Chicago, a Windy City reporter couldn't believe his eyes. "Jerome just looked directly into a bunch of TV cameras and barked," the wide-eyed reporter said after Williams' first game with the Bulls. "What is up with that?" Well, those are the types of actions that endeared JYD to the Toronto basketball faithful. It's all an act, you know -- Williams isn't really crazy at all, he just behaves that way. But his energetic antics and crowd-pleasing manner made him a real fan favourite here. That his schtick doesn't translate to other cities makes him love Toronto even more.

BUTCH CARTER

Arguably the best Xs and Os coach in Raptors history, Butch Carter lost his mind during the last half-season of his reign. He wrote a book blasting his old college coach, Bobby Knight, that put Raptors GM Glen Grunwald in a terribly awkward position. Carter sued the Knicks' Marcus Camby during a playoff series, then claimed the reason the Knicks were winning the series was because they had more players under long-term contracts. Finally, when news surfaced that Carter had tried to usurp Grunwald's job at season's end, the Raptors couldn't take it anymore and Carter was gone in June 2000. He has not resurfaced in the hoops world.

CHARLES OAKLEY

A sports reporter in need of a mind-blowing quote always could rely upon Charles Oakley. His shining moment occurred one night in Cleveland when, in trying to describe (we presume) how the young players in the NBA are concerned only with money, Oak said, "Pimpin' ain't easy, pimpin' ain't dead, the 'hos are just scared." Great stuff. But in Oakley's latter years, his words and actions -- blasting his own GM repeatedly, going after rival players at a shootaround and before a pre-season game -- took on a "grumpy old man" tone. Ultimately, Oak was jettisoned to Chicago, but the Raptors never have replaced his toughness.


Videos

Photos