Love him or loathe him, Drake’s court-side antics are helping the Raptors gain global attention.
For the first time in NBA history, the Toronto Raptors are the Eastern Conference champions, and have advanced to the NBA finals, playing against the current NBA championship winners, the Golden State Warriors.
But all eyes aren’t just on the Raptors leading up to this whirlwind of a time in Canadian sport history. The attention that Drake has amassed is just as unprecedented as the Raptors in the NBA finals. And while people are quick to shame the Toronto rapper for his court-side antics, there is no denying that Drake has been making enormous contributions to the team.
What we need to remember is that Drake isn’t just some celebrity sitting court-side at a basketball game — he’s the Global Ambassador for Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment. His job is to literally be a super fan, and create hype around the Raptors brand on a global level.
Sports marketing expert, Blake Lawrence, shared with Forbes that Drake’s value is at an all time high if a marketing and sponsorship perspective is factored in. “Having Drake as an ambassador for the Raptors is one of the most valuable assets that any sports team has right now,” Lawrence explained. “The difference between Drake and Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee is that Drake has had his rise to stardom in the social media era. Where you just saw Spike or Jack on the sidelines, you see Drake in your social media feed. You see his stories, you see his videos. He’s got 57 million followers on Instagram and almost 40 million followers on Twitter. He’s got nearly a 100 million people tuned in to his every move.”
During the Eastern Conference series, Drake got a heavy slew of negative feedback for an interaction with Giannis Antetokounmpo. When Antetokounmpo fouled out in the second overtime of a game, Drake waved goodbye very obviously as he headed towards the bench. Fans were outraged at Drake’s decision to go as far as provoke opposing team members. (This being the same game in which the rapper gave Raptors coach, Nick Nurse, a shoulder rub). An executive for Antetokounmpo tweeted: “Imagine a gig & an athlete on VIP seats, right next to the band, stands up on the stage just to show off during the entire game, knowing cameras are on him, occasionally even massaging the singer. Security & him both allow it. Never seen anything as disrespectful as this before…” Since then, the NBA has asked Drake to tone down his court-side performance, but when he showed up to Game 1 of the championship playoffs wearing an autographed Dell Curry jersey (in an attempt to troll his long-time friend and son of Dell Curry, Steph Curry who plays for the Golden State Warriors) we knew there would be no stopping him.
But NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith said that he thinks it’s “embarrassing” that anyone associated with the Milwaukee Bucks would even comment about Drake’s sideline behaviour. “There is no reason for everybody to be in an uproar about this,” he said. “He’s a part of the Raptors organization. He’s just not some typical fan. If you’ve got a problem with this, Milwaukee, do something about it. Give him nothing to cheer about by handling your business.”
Love him or loathe him, Drake is bridging the gap between Torontonians and a once very neglected sports team. Years ago, the mention of attending a Raptors game didn’t garner any reaction. Now, it’s considered a privilege to watch our basketball team compete, and the fate of the Raptors, and of the athletes we’ve become so invested in, is all anyone can think about. And Drake, believe it or not, plays a part in that shift.
After the Game 5 Raptors win, just days before they would advance to the NBA finals, Drake managed to sum up Toronto’s pride perfectly in a speech. “We have the best player, we have the best fans in the whole NBA. Look around. We created this. They can say it’s disrespectful, but everybody is within the rules. All we are is proud and passionate. I love this team.” #WeTheNorth, indeed.