Tuesday, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell broke off a bull session with reporters to peer at the journos' shoes. "Need a shine."
"Man, how can you wear those?"
"Your shoes," he reminded the writers, "say a lot about you."
Flash forward to halftime of Wednesday night's game against the New York Knicks, where Mitchell was verbally speedbagging Chris Bosh over his footwear.
Bosh hadn't made sure his sneaks were new enough to give maximum grip, but broken-in enough to allow him unfettered movement.
Mitchell had already told Bosh to change his shoes in the second quarter. Now he was making sure that never again would Chris Bosh fail to properly break in a pair of shoes before venturing on to the basketball court.
"Coach walked into the locker room and he said to Chris, 'What were you doing in those shoes?' " said fifth-year-man Morris Peterson. "You fell down twice and you turned the ball over three times."
"The right shoes might seem like a little thing," Mitchell said later, "but you've got to get it right. I made that mistake as a player. Kevin Garnett made that mistake as a player."
The parable of the shoe underscores the relationship between Chris Bosh, the Raptors franchise player of the near future and Sam Mitchell, who is not so much Old School as Old Testament. It also retraces the line between Bosh, Mitchell and Garnett, the league's reigning MVP. It's a story about preparation, about attention to detail. Your shoes say a lot about you.
Any story about Chris Bosh is, by necessity, about Vince Carter just as any story about the Raptors' great young talent in 2010 will probably also be about Chris Bosh.
Carter is the flawed template for potential gone bad.
It's hard to remember that once, Vince Carter's principal asset was an irrepressible love of the game. For reasons that weren't always his fault (poor management decisions, four different coaches, the city's suffocating need for his approval), his personality calcified. Over seven seasons here he lost, to coin a motivational phrase, a fraction of his altitude and nearly all his attitude.
Carter believed his best coach was Butch Carter, the tough-love boss who handled him and the equally precocious Tracy McGrady before flaming out in 2000.
Carter was never managed after Butch Carter left, only mollified.
Lenny Wilkens played him regardless of result. Kevin O'Neill played Carter endlessly, even as selfishness in the form of an unwillingness to play defence or drive to the basket, infected Carter's game.
Mitchell limited Carter's minutes, like no coach before him, in a vain effort to rehabilitate his game but it was too late. Of all the things Vince Carter was wrong about, he had one thing right: It was time for him to go.
Basketball is really about the tension between two poles, the collective and the individual.
The snapshots of individualism paraded on the sports highlight shows are good for business. But unselfishness, team play, cohesion, are what make the game great.
Stars sell tickets, command double-teams and score at will. But they devour budgets, demand minutes when they are playing well and minutes to work through rough spots when they aren't. They often expect to be consulted on management moves. Carter's pique at learning Julius Erving, his left-field choice for the Raptors' general manager's job, hadn't been seriously considered and played a part in his decision to leave.
Vince Carter, whose principal counsel was his mom Michelle, never benefitted from the kind of male role model, mentor and confidante, Butch Carter once seemed capable of becoming.
Chris Bosh won't have that problem.
"Coach and Chris have a unique relationship," Peterson said. "It's kind of like a marriage. Coach isn't someone who spends a lot of time telling people things they want to hear. If Chris does 19 things right and one thing wrong, coach will remind him of the one thing he needs to improve on."
Bosh has an astonishing skill set. Dextrous and imaginative, he is impossible to contain near the basket. As a 6-foot-10 power forward, he is bigger than nearly anyone sent to cover him and much more mobile than any plodding seven-footer. After Carter's trade to New Jersey last month, Bosh reeled off nine double-doubles in a row before that streak ended Friday in Washington.
His shot-blocking ability and mobility allow him to routinely disrupt what would otherwise be high-percentage shots. He destroys the pick-and-roll. Considering he was playing high school basketball in his home state of Texas three years ago, the pace of Bosh's development is staggering.
Naturally then, the battle for Chris Bosh's heart and mind is anything but incidental to the Raptors' success.
"When you get a young guy who's very athletic and has a lot of talent, they don't always listen to their coaches, or to veterans," said Raptors nine-year-man Eric Williams. "Chris listens to veterans as if they were coaches and then takes what he has learned out to the floor and executes it."
At least once a week, Raptors broadcaster Chuck Swirsky reminds Chris Bosh of the person he wants him to remain.
"I love the kid," Swirsky said. "And I always say to him, 'Don't change Chris, stay humble. Don't get NBA-itis.' "
"I don't think a person can change," Bosh offers. "If you're a bitter person, it'll be hard to cover it up. I want to keep being the person I was before."
The humility Swirsky covets is evident. Bosh answers to a host of critics.
"If I have a stinky attitude, there are a lot of people -- my mom, my dad, my friends, my teammates -- who will take that right out of me."
"Yeah," Bosh says with a grin. "He's not afraid to tell me what he thinks."
Mitchell is the link between Bosh and his idol, Minnesota star Kevin Garnett.
"I looked at Kevin, he was a thin guy, tall, just like me," Bosh said a few days after being drafted. "He could handle the ball and he could shoot it, too. That really caught my eye."
Garnett, who arrived in the NBA without playing college ball, was schooled by Mitchell, then in the middle of a productive 13-year-career. Mitchell went so far as to tell the coaching staff his understudy needed to go into the lineup, over him, to improve the team.
It falls to Sam Mitchell, the coach, to mentor Bosh as he did Garnett. Garnett was an eager, voracious student.
Part of Mitchell's gig is the withholding of public praise.
Bosh's ego wouldn't be bloated by excessive praise, but Mitchell is taking no chances. When you ask the Raptors coach any question about Bosh's play, he reflexively deflects it toward the team as whole
"I want people to leave Chris alone, appreciate what he's doing and compliment him on what the team is doing," Mitchell said.
In this, Mitchell is at cross-purposes with the media who he indulges but, like every other coach, would love to do without.
It's not that Mitchell won't use the media. His call-out of Jerome Moiso was as calculated as any you'll ever see and neatly foreshadowed Moiso's December release.
It's just that stars make good copy and featureless, seamless teams do not. In the battle against individualism, the media carry the wrong colours.
You can't fault Sam Mitchell for knowing that. In fact, you have to admire him. Mitchell knows, as long as Chris Bosh keeps his feet on the ground, he's on solid footing.