James' pit-bull persona well-deserved

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Mike James wouldn't mind it at all if you tell him he plays like a dog.

But you'd have to be specific.

Suggest that he plays like a poodle, and you're likely to get one of those looks that could freeze a lava flow.

But mention pit bull and he'll love you forever, perhaps even do one of his famous locker room dances for your entertainment.

Yes, Mike James really loves pit bulls. He has a purebred Albino named Justice at home, whom he absolutely loves - "She's my baby," he says - and he recently bought a 3 1/2-acre plot of land outside of Houston where he is having his dream home built on a compound that will include a kennel. Once everything is constructed - kennel, guest house, swimming pool, practice court - James plans to breed pit bulls, for himself, and to give away to family and friends.

"I raise my dogs to be family dogs, but also as protectors," he said this week. "We're not going to carry guns in my house, so my thing is, if you hop that fence, trying to take what I worked so hard to put together for myself and my family, you have a little surprise waiting for you. You're going to have about six to seven of them jumping on your back."

One reason James loves pit bulls so much, they remind him of himself: Not particularly big, but muscular, quick and energetic. In fact, James sports one of the more unusual tattoos in a game where many, perhaps most, of the participants have them.

There is a large drawing of Jesus Christ on his back, but without a face. And underneath Christ, is a pit bull. At first glance, it seems quite odd, perhaps even blasphemous. But there is a message in the image.

"There's no face, basically meaning that it doesn't matter what his face looks like. It doesn't matter if he's black or white, or if he has long hair or straight hair. The only thing that matters is, he's the son of God," said James. "And the picture of the pit bull underneath that picture, signifies me."

And there is more to it. James considers himself a messenger of Christ, but certainly not one of those who never falls off the straight and narrow, or frowns upon anyone else who does.

"It's basically saying, if you come against me, you're fighting a battle you can't win," he said. "Because Christ has my back. And that's why I got the tattoo. That signifies who I am as a person.

"It looks crazy, but the meaning behind it is deep."

The Raptors are leaning towards trying to sign their pit bull to a new contract this summer. James, who is having a career season since being traded to Toronto for Rafer Alston, loves playing with young talents Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva, and everything about his adopted city. Almost everything. The one thing that he has trouble coming to terms with is Toronto's ban on pits. Because of that, he has had to leave Justice at home.

"They're misunderstood. They're the sweetest, most loving dogs in the world," he said, pointing out that pits have a bad rap because people breed them to fight. "You could raise a child to grow up to be a Nazi. I could raise my daughters to grow up to hate all white people, or anybody who is not black. It's how you raise them is how they react to people. You treat them with love, you treat them with care, but you also discipline them and let them know you're not afraid of them, then they're going to always respect you."

Indeed, James said he has no problems allowing Justice to play with his two young daughters.

"My (2-year old) daughter bit my pit bull one time, on the back. And every time (Justice) saw her after that, she would just get up and walk away, like: 'I'm not even going to fool with this little girl no more,'" he said.

After his family and basketball, pit bulls are his life. He relates to them. Guess it takes one to know one.


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