The irony of the hoopla over Michael Jordan possibly appearing in Ottawa to watch his son Jeff play is that, in a way, a bigger basketball name did turn out at the Ravens' Nest last night.
Jordan is Jordan. There were enough No. 23 jerseys over at Carleton -- one teenager even had one of the Washington Wizards, an experience M.J. might not want to be reminded of -- to vouch for that. In the context of being a basketball fan in Canada in 2007, Raptors GM and president Bryan Colangelo (pictured) matters more, and by the looks of it, he got off easy compared to Heir Jordan.
By virtue of who his pops is, 18-year-old Jeff Jordan had national media -- Ian Mendes of Rogers Sportsnet, Patricia Boal from The Score, Michael Whalen of TSN -- interviewing him after the game with fans crowded around two-deep to snap off shots with their camera phones. One shrieked so loudly one of the TV reporters turned away from young Jordan with an expression journalists the world over sport when calamity hits.
Colangelo, who's in town to scout some of the visiting U.S. players was won over by the sold-out crowd of 1,500.
"I have to tell you, I just said to someone to earlier, this is very impressive," he said at halftime. "You can tell they're interested in what's happening in basketball. They've come and supported their team and are seeing what a fairly high-profile American college team is all about... you can tell there's a lot of interest in basketball here."
Now, I came away from the conversation feeling like I had blown it like a wide-open layup in a high school game back in 1996. Shyness, being a blogger in a press box next to paid reporters, and the whole spur of the momentness worked against asking about Garbo's ankle or getting into the merits of T.J. Ford vs. Jose Calderon. It did seem odd why the Raptors were scouting this game, and not a Big 10 game in January in front of 15,000 people.
"This is up close and personal," Colangelo said as the crowd noise rose and fell. "You've got a great setting and a pretty hungry squad (Carleton) trying to gun 'em down. The coaches are experimenting, the players have had little practice time if any, given the (NCAA) rules. It's a good baseline."
The logic kind of clicked hours later and maybe it reveals something about how Colangelo and Raptors assistant GM Maurizio Gherardini do it differently. It's almost like seeing Illinois play at Carleton on Aug. 31 since the American collegians in a foreign country and setting -- a gym compared to a 16,000-seat arena, at the start of football season -- reveals who adapt to constant change. That quality makes or break a basketball player. In theory, the teams who can best discern it in a player are the ones who end up ruling the NBA world.
Colangelo hasn't done that yet, but he's given Canada's own Steve Nash the chance to become Steve Nash in Phoenix with the running and gunning Suns before he bolted the desert to lead the Great Raptor Redesign. That's why he's more important to us now than Michael Jordan -- who, coincidentally, had a checkered post-playing front-office career while Colangelo's scooped two of the past three NBA executive of the year awards. (Jordan's now a minority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.)
This has all come in the era of Moneyball, 18 bajillion fantasy leagues, blogs dedicated to minor-league systems and firing J.P. Ricciardi, Colangelo's counterpart with the Toronto Blue Jays. It seems like a lot people do want to Be Like Bryan, even if they stay out of camera phone range.
This was all spur of the moment and I kept replaying that scene in Almost Famous where the Rolling Stone editor says of the teen rock critic, "What do you expect? He's just a fan." We did touch on the improvement across the NBA's Eastern Conference, with Colangelo noting who the Celtics and Knicks have picked up and that the hated New Jersey Nets face questions about whether they can "stay healthy."
Since Colangelo's father Jerry is big into USA Basketball, so a question about Canada's fifth-place result at the FIBA Americas was only natural.
"I think by evidence of what happened in Las Vegas, it was a fairly strong showing," he said. "They did perhaps better than some people anticipated. It's just nice to see that the sport continues to evolve in this country. We're trying to do our part to bring interest and awareness... success on the court helps that."
There was a chance to get out a question this sports nerd has always wanted to ask a pro sports executive, to validate all this time blogging as much as anything else. It sort of revolves around how much the Raptors rely on the web to take the pulse of the fans. It's different from the NHL, since a lot of fans -- teenagers, younger workers, new Canadians -- don't have command of a TV clicker when the team's playing. Colangelo confirms that the web is becoming a better measure than TV ratings.
"Chatrooms and the various blogs that are out there, we really see that as one of the best ways of knowing there's interest at the grassroots level. It's great to to see. It is certainly something I think gives us an opportunity to speak to the masses and the masses are responding to us."
He added, "We have the daily clips that go around things like (Toronto Star columnist) Doug Smith's mailbag... if you're online reading about the team and the story has readers' comments, you have to take a look and see what are the various opinions are.
"I've always been a big proponent of knowing what's going on in the market around you. A lot of people in sports say they don't pay attention to what's said and written... I think you have to pay attention."
Colangelo probably knew that being in Ottawa and talking to a guy from a website, that it was the right answer. That ties in with that ability to adapt mentioned earlier, and it was enough to know why so many people who deal with him daily believe he'll take the Raptors to the promised land.
Raptors Make 'Net Gains (Jan. 16, 2007)
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