Raps once had an edge

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

The Toronto Raptors might be the patsies of the NBA today.

But once upon a time they were mean, nasty, down-and-dirty.

When the Raptors hit the road, the welcoming committee in NBA towns included everyone from the sheriff to probation officers and the wrath of too many women scorned.

They were the the outlaws of the NBA. The wild west had Jesse James.

The Raptors had Isiah Thomas and his band of ne'er do-wells.

Today, they have Bryan Colangelo in a tailor-made suit and an image that sparkles like Mr. Clean. Maybe they should've stopped somewhere in between.

So, how does a franchise go from Snidely Whiplash to Niles Crane?

It begins with the club's creation. The NBA never did Toronto any favours, preventing it from having the No. 1 pick in the draft and forcing it to stock the roster with other team's problem children.

At the time, Thomas didn't seem to mind, having come to Toronto from Detroit where renegades were the players of choice.

And, it seemed to work fairly well the first few seasons. The team had an edge and some small success. But players' sins were being covered up. Alvin Robertson, now charged with sexual assault in a case involving a child, was on that team.

Then, there were numerous wild parties; like the one involving John Salley that ended up with at least one car in the lake.

There was the time a player got served with paternity papers in the dressing room in Milwaukee. He blamed the Raptors' front office, noting that he had warned him he couldn't go to Wisconsin to play road games.

Let's just say there were other "morally questionable" incidents.

And then in 1997 it all fell apart, Thomas lost his bid to buy the team and left town.

Damon Stoudamire -- more loyal to Isiah than the club -- demanded an exit.

The eventual owner of the Raptors, the newly formed Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, decided it didn't need all that trouble.

No more bad guys.

The new Raptors were going to be people of good character who would contribute to the community.

Great intentions.

But somewhere along the line it appears that in getting rid of the bad guys the organization made an over-correction and also got rid of the tough guy.

Sure, Charles Oakley dropped in but while he still had the reputation he no longer had the game.

It was the dawning of the era of Smilin' Vince and ever since the Raptors have been unable to shake the reputation of being talented but, well, wimpy.

Today, the closest thing to grittiness are Antoine Wright and Reggie Evans but their impact in the dressing room culture appears minimal.

Equally minimal as been the team's playoff success -- winning just three games in the past eight seasons.

"No organization says let's build a team that's going to lose. But you need the right vision and that comes from the top down. You also need the right personnel to make that vision reality. Everybody in the organization needs to buy into the same vision. It's that chemistry people in sports talk about," says Nastasche Wesch, a psychologist specializing in sports, at the University of Western Ontario.

So, Raptors' ownership doesn't have to worry about bail money anymore. But in cleaning up the image it may have created a team without an edge -- one with players who look great at the charity golf tournaments every spring, but lack the toughness to succeed in the NBA.


Videos

Photos