Aggregation alert! The New York Times’ Sopan Deb published a one-on-one interview with Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam this morning. In the wide-ranging discussion, Siakam talks about his shoulder surgery and rehab, his struggles last season, trade rumours, and his relationships with Kyle Lowry, Masai Ujiri and the Raptors organization.
New: A long conversation with Pascal Siakam, in which he admits some frustration with Toronto’s front office after receiving his contract extension, but says things are better now and that he sees himself in Toronto long term. https://t.co/7sYK2Cri1F
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) September 16, 2021
I’m not going to aggregate the whole piece, it’s well worth your time so I encourage you to go and read it.
But the one thing I do want to pick up on is where Siakam talks about his connection to the city of Toronto and how much it hurt to see the fans get so down on him.
I really love that Siakam feels that his underdog stories mirrors the underdog status that the Raptors have always had in the NBA. And that he recognizes that, as an international player, being in an international city like Toronto makes it feel more like home. I think it’s pretty rare for a player and a city to have such a great connection.
So for that subset of fans (the loudest subset, naturally) to turn on him the way that they did — yeah, I totally get why that hurts. And how it would add to the frustration of playing away from home, of struggling through COVID, of losing. And how it would lead to a blowup with the head coach and a drop-off in performance. Especially because, as Siakam notes, many of those comments crossed the line by injecting racist attacks or personal attacks about Siakam’s late father.
It hurts me, as a Toronto native, as someone who loves this city and the Raptors, to see fellow Torontonians and Raptors fans treat a player — heck, treat anyone — that way. And I don’t wanna lecture anyone on “how to be a fan” but I hope everyone reading this blog agrees that that kind of commentary is unacceptable.
Naturally, I hope that Siakam comes back healthy and strong and has a bounce-back season (though to be clear, his final numbers from last season were still pretty darn good: 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. If his shooting comes back there’s no reason to think he won’t outshine his All-NBA season numbers).
But what I really hope is that, in the broader sense, all NBA and sports fans begin to treat these athletes as what they are: human beings. Just because they “get paid big bucks” to “play a game for a living” doesn’t mean they deserve to have personal attacks levelled against them. We can be better than that. And I have to think that, when the Raptors return to Scotiabank Arena, the fans that are able to attend will show Siakam what he really means to them.