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Now Starring . . . Chris Bosh

Let's talk about The Video. You know the one. That grainy, 77-second window into Chris Bosh's personality that has made the Toronto Raptors' All-Star power forward an overnight Internet sensation, one on par with Andy Milonakis, Numa Numa and Paris Hilton. (O.K., maybe not Paris, but definitely Perez.) Thanks to a $300 Sony Handicam, a Western wardrobe and a little tech savvy, Bosh has emerged from the relative anonymity that comes with playing on the only NBA team north of the border. His now famous YouTube clip -- which features the 6' 10", 230-pound Bosh, clad in a black cowboy hat, a black blazer, a white shirt and a bolo tie that would have made John Wayne proud, channeling his inner used-car salesman in a pronounced Texas drawl while urging fans to punch his name on the All-Star ballot -- has become more popular than an average NHL broadcast. (Through Sunday it had been viewed 440,803 times on YouTube, plus an untold number more on Bosh's website, chris-bosh.com.) "It has become bigger than I could have imagined," says Bosh. "The Internet is the most powerful tool in the world. It's everywhere."

Since Bosh first posted The Video in late December, it has also run on CNN, ESPN, TSN and virtually every regional sports network in the United States and Canada. Over the last few weeks the team's public relations office has been inundated with requests from TV stations looking for original copies. Fans approach Bosh almost daily wanting to talk about it. "It's the accent," says Bosh, a Dallas native. "People keep coming up to me asking me to do it." When the Raptors were in New York last month, one fan shouted at Bosh that he had watched the video but still didn't vote for him. "Now that was funny," says Bosh.

The YouTube phenomenon is beginning to catch on in the league. Last week forward Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies posted a video asking fans what kind of acrobatic feat he should perform in this year's slam dunk contest. However, the reaction to a player's using the Internet to lobby for All-Star votes has been mixed. "I don't know what to think about guys doing that," muses Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Krystowiak.

"I wouldn't do it," says Bucks guard Michael Redd. "But then, I'm not that creative."

"It's not politicking," insists Toronto coach Sam Mitchell. "I've got a stack of mail on my desk from coaches asking me to vote for their players. I got a fruit basket. That's [politicking]. What Chris did was for fun."

It's not as though Bosh needed to make the case that he's an elite player. After serving as Vince Carter's wingman for 1 1/2 seasons, Bosh has established himself as the face of the Raptors. Already a formidable post presence when he arrived in Toronto as the fourth pick in the 2003 draft, the athletic, agile and impossibly long Bosh has added a feathery jump shot to his repertoire. Through Sunday he was averaging 22.5 points and 9.2 rebounds (while shooting 48.9% from the floor and 85.3% from the line), the kind of production Toronto was expecting when it signed him to a four-year, $65 million contract extension in 2006. Despite injuries to point guard T.J. Ford and forward Jorge Garbajosa that could have crippled the team, the Raptors (24-19) have remained in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

In a 114-112 win over the league-leading Celtics in Boston on Jan. 23, Bosh went blow for blow with Kevin Garnett, who by becoming a Celtic essentially took Bosh's spot as an All-Star starter. (Bosh finished with 23 points and seven rebounds; KG had 26 and seven.) In last Friday's 106-75 blowout victory over Milwaukee, Bosh abused the Bucks' frontcourt with 32 points and seven rebounds -- in just three quarters. "He has become lethal," says Krystowiak. "He really has no weaknesses."

The widespread reaction to The Video is not what Bosh expected when he first brainstormed the idea. Elected by the fans as a starter on last year's East squad, Bosh trailed Garnett and the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James in late December by about 700,000 votes apiece for one of the two starting forward spots. So he decided to make a sales pitch. "I didn't want to make a regular, boring video, because no one would watch," says Bosh. "There wouldn't be any word of mouth." Bosh initially planned to pretend to be the President making an impassioned plea to the people to send him to New Orleans. "But I've seen a lot of crazy car salesmen," says Bosh. "I thought that would be funnier."

This wasn't Bosh's first foray into filmmaking. For a high school project Bosh once made a mock commercial for Spoape, a fictional sponge filled with soap. And in his only year at Georgia Tech, he reenacted D'Angelo's music video for Untitled (How Does It Feel) for kicks. In case you forgot, that's the one in which the R&B singer stands in front of the camera singing while, by all appearances, completely naked. "He didn't strip all the way down," Bosh's brother, Joel, says of Chris's version. "Just the shirt. But he was twirling around the living room." (Says Chris, "No, he did not tell you that.")

With his girlfriend, Allison Mathis, filming and with Joel on hand to play a supporting role, Bosh parked his white Escalade EXT in front of a fence across the street from his house in Dallas and delivered an inspired performance. A few takes later ("We had to stop once," says Bosh, "because my mom came over and burst out laughing"), the video was ready to be uploaded.

The clip showed a side of the smooth NBA superstar that few have seen. "I always thought he was a country bumpkin," says his coach, Mitchell. "Now I know." Bosh is in fact a bit of a homebody. He goes out at night, but "it's only for an hour or two," he says. "Then I'm back on the couch or asleep." He's friendly with all his teammates but isn't particularly close to any of them, save, perhaps, fellow Texan Ford, who hasn't played since early December because of a neck injury. That's probably why so many Raptors were stunned to see their quiet superstar on television hamming it up and looking like a Brobdingnagian cowboy. "It was hilarious," says shooting guard Anthony Parker. "I've been telling him to show some more personality because he can be a funny guy."

"It worked," says point guard José Calderón. "I didn't vote for him before, but I did after."

Bosh lives in a condo in suburban Toronto with his cousin Adriene Mayes and Mathis, who had her own 15 minutes of video fame in early January when she was caught on camera heckling James during a game in Cleveland. With the Cavs trailing by 11 in the third quarter, King James missed a breakaway dunk, prompting Allison, a five-foot wisp of a woman with a voice that carries across county lines, to get on his case. But in the fourth quarter James scored 24 points to spark a come-from-behind victory and was seen mouthing "It's your fault" in the general direction of Allison.

"Now that was blown out of proportion," says Bosh. "They know each other."

But she picked the wrong guy to heckle, right? "Yeah," says Bosh. "I think I'll leave her home next time."

Even if Mathis isn't by his side, Bosh has plenty to keep him busy on road trips. The truth is, he's a nerd. A supernerd, really -- think Lewis Skolnick with twists. He's as comfortable talking about gigabytes and hard drives as he is defense and jump shots. He reads PC World and Wired magazines. He blogs. He has his own MySpace page and spends his free time instant messaging. ("I would be on there more often," says Bosh, "but no one hits me back.") He has two Treos, and his laptop is constantly humming as it downloads music. He has a second PC that he custom-configured to run an entertainment center that includes nearly every video game system in existence. "What can I say," says Bosh. "I like gadgets." During last season's All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, Bosh dropped by the NBA's Technology Summit, an event usually attended only by corporate executives and a smattering of media (and, of course, Mark Cuban). His presence attracted notice: At this year's Summit, Bosh will sit on a panel moderated by Wolf Blitzer to discuss social networking and blogging. Says NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, "He's a computer geek trapped in an NBA player's body."

Bosh's love of microchips and motherboards began as a toddler, when he started playing with computers. His mom, Freida, was a systems analyst for a small computer company in Dallas. "She got me hooked," says Bosh, whose dad, Noel, is a plumbing engineer. When it came time to choose a major at Georgia Tech, Bosh planned to go with computer science but instead picked management when he was told the comp-sci course load might be too difficult for a freshman basketball player. (For the time being Bosh has no plans to finish his degree, but he has already founded a company, Max Deal Technologies, that provides tech solutions for a high-end clientele.)

In the meantime Bosh focuses on his day job, one he has performed with remarkable consistency. (His scoring and rebounding averages through Sunday were exactly the same as his final stats from the 2005-06 season and just a hair below his numbers from last season.) When the final balloting was revealed and the All-Star starters were announced last Thursday, Bosh finished more than a million votes behind both Garnett and James. But he still counts The Video as a success. On Dec. 27, a little more than a month into the voting, Bosh had received 313,983 votes; when the polls closed on Jan. 21, Bosh's total was 838,498. "You can't be mad when you get beat by KG or LeBron," says Bosh, who is a near certainty to make the team when reserves are announced on Thursday.

Moreover, The Video opened the door to other opportunities. Shortly after it was posted, YouTube officials contacted Bosh about starting his own online channel. Hence, the birth of Chris Bosh TV (CBTV), which includes behind-the-scenes footage of Bosh recording his podcast and attending various events. On the channel he will also periodically answer questions submitted on his website or YouTube. "It's my way of interacting with the fans," says Bosh, who, thanks to The Video, now has a lot more of them.

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