By Lori Ewing
THE CANADIAN PRESS
ORONTO _ Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said he often gets asked about Drake.
“I get texts: ‘Do you know Drake? Have you met Drake?’ He sits there every night, he hears me cuss out the referees every night,” Casey said, laughing. “He knows all my cuss words.”
Part rapper, part Raptors mascot, Drake is the basketball team’s global ambassador, and has his own courtside seat at the Air Canada Centre, about an arm’s length away from where Casey paces and hollers at the referees.
The rapper-songwriter hosted his second annual “Drake Night,” on Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre, as the Raptors played Brooklyn for the first time since the Nets ousted Toronto in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
A sell-out crowd of 19,800 fans received keepsake “Drake Night” T-shirts. Drake announced the Raptors’ lineup pre-game before taking his usual courtside seat. He spent some time at the broadcast table doing guest commentary.
“Do I hear Dwane Casey use foul language?” Drake was asked in a humorous pre-game scrum with reporters. “He just always says ‘high hands.’ He’s always screaming ‘high hands.’
“Honestly, I sit right beside him, and I can’t understand a word that he’s saying. I don’t know how the players know what to do. It just all sounds like random words that come to his mind. He’ll just be like, ‘A-1 sauce!”’
Drake said while the night was named for him, it was all about a Raptors team that is enjoying its best start in franchise history.
“It’s really about this team just doing what they’ve been doing all year, which is just being incredible,” he said. “I had some conversations with a couple of the guys and just really asked them to overdo it tonight for me.
“I hate to be redundant, but I just care so much about the city and the people in it and night after night, it’s amazing to see all these seats sold out,” he added. “Sports is a huge part of my life, and it’s just great to see people from all walks of life, Toronto itself is such a mosaic of different people from different cultures and different walks of life and you look around the building and you see all these people just coming together for a great squad, a great game.”
Drake said he was given a choice of visiting teams for his night this season. Brooklyn was an obvious choice after the Nets dispatched the Raptors in Game 7 of the opening round of the playoffs last season.
“If there’s anybody that I want to beat, it’s the Nets,” Drake said. “I think if we have a rivalry at all, I think this would probably would be it. Obviously, I’ve got much love for New York and Brooklyn but in this particular arena at this particular moment, the one thing I want to do is knock out Brooklyn.”
Drake has come to know the Raptors players well, and attributes their success to their chemistry.
“Being part of an ensemble cast, it involves the meshing of all personalities. I can testify because I was on ‘Degrassi’ where there were 12 kids trying to co-exist, and everybody wanted to be a star,” he said. “Once you have a common goal in mind as opposed to a personal goal, that’s when things really start to click.
“They have a real family vibe going on. . . These guys love each other. They care about each other. It shows in our record. I’m excited for this stretch, and I’m excited for the stretch where we play the over-500 teams. I think that’s going to be the real test.”
After Sunday’s game versus the visiting New York Knicks, the Raptors head west for a tough six-game road trip.