Canadian recording artist Drake, left, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford laugh at a news conference announcing that Toronto will host the 2016 NBA All-Star game, in Toronto, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fran Gunn)
Monday, September 30, 2013 9:25 pm
From rapper to Raptor, Drake takes on new role
By DAN GELSTONAP Sports Writer
Go ahead, security. Just try and turn him away now from an NBA locker room.
Drake no longer has to crash the party. Instead, he's bringing the party with him to Toronto. And maybe he'll help take the Raptors to the top of the charts.
The Raptors are ready to rock, and they turned Monday to Drake, one of music's brightest stars, to serve as their team ambassador. A lifelong Raptors fan, Drake wants to make the team cool again, and win some games along the way.
He'd love to dangle his A-list connections as a way to attract prized free agents or simply infuse the Toronto fan base with a dose of enthusiasm about the rebuilding franchise.
"Today's probably one of the best days of my life," Drake said by phone from Toronto. "I got to throw on the suit and be announced as the global ambassador of the Toronto Raptors.
"I can't wait to add everything I can."
He'll likely have an accessory more meaningful than even his Grammy - try an all-access pass that should allow him to dodge security and walk into locker rooms all over the NBA.
No press pass needed.
In an event that went viral on social media, Drake was denied in June by security at American Airlines Arena when he tried to enter with the media to the Miami Heat's locker room after they won the NBA title. He told security, "I am media," as he tried to enter the champagne-drenched room.
He had as much luck as a Raptors fan trying to sneak backstage at the Grammys.
Drake, a close friend of LeBron James, laughed off the caught-on-tape incident that became an Internet sensation.
"I think that'll be the last time I ever get shut out of a locker room," Drake said. "I don't know if that's ever going to happen in Toronto.
"That was a one-time Miami moment, for sure."
Drake follows rapper/moguls like Jay-Z and Will Smith into NBA ownership. Smith owns a stake in the Philadelphia 76ers. Jay-Z recently sold his minor share in the Brooklyn Nets to become a player in the sports agent business.
Jay-Z had a major role in the rebranding of the team in its first season in Brooklyn, even debuting the team's black-and-white uniforms during one of his concerts.
"Jay-Z just sent me a congratulatory email, which is very nice of him," Drake said. "He's the best guy in the world. One of the most important people in my life."
Drake said his exact duties are undefined but he's open to any role.
"I feel like I'm part of the franchise at the most exciting part of franchise history," Drake said.
Drake said the job evolved after a chat with Tim Lieweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and general manager Masai Ujiri.
"I came into the venue one night and I guess was extremely outspoken about what I felt could change, as far as the building goes," Drake said. "That sparked a discussion and (we) sat down and decided we had the same visions.
"It just turned from a discussion to a reality."
Drake was part of Monday's announcement that the NBA All-Star game is coming to Toronto in 2016. Lieweke said the team is in the process of planning a major face-lift that will include a new look and new colors.
"We have now a responsibility to grow our basketball team so that it meets the momentum of the All-Star game," Ujiri said. "We promise you in Toronto that we're going to bring the best basketball."
The 26-year-old Drake grew up watching the Raptors in their early 2000s heyday when Vince Carter turned them into postseason regulars.
"I was a Vince Carter guy. I was a Damon Stoudamire guy. I was a (Tracy McGrady) guy," Drake said. "I've supported the franchise through our ups and downs. More than anything, I'm a Toronto guy. I'm a city guy.
"I care about the city more than anything in the world."