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Scottie Barnes' first days in Toronto came with a challenge.

It wasn't the usual stuff NBA players deal with when they move to a new city. The Toronto Raptors made things pretty easy on that front. Even the frustrations of border security, customs, and whatever else NBA players complain about when they come to Canada weren't that bad, Barnes said. That was until a trip to the CN Tower.

"I'm kind of afraid of heights," Barnes told me as we sat high up in the 11th-floor offices of BitBuy, the Canadian-based Crypto company Barnes will represent this year. "I was taking on the challenge, stepping through, looking down. It’s great sightseeing, I guess."

Save for some nerves on the glass floor, Barnes' first year and a half in Toronto have been pretty smooth-sailing. The city, the fans, and the organization have blown him away, making him feel at home nearly two thousand kilometers away from his childhood home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

All the chatter that comes every year about Toronto not being a desirable place for NBA players hasn't made much sense to Barnes. Yes, it's cold here. If he could change one thing about the city that'd be it. But it's not such a big deal. It's just an excuse to stay inside, sleep in, play video games, and work out, he said. 

"Every time I come here I feel safe," Barnes said of Toronto. "Feel like I enjoy my time here every single time."

His love for the city has been reciprocated by fans throughout Toronto and across the country. It was amazing, he said, to play training camp and preseason games in front of sold-out gyms in Victoria, Edmonton, and Montreal. Nowhere else in the NBA has that kind of support. 

"People just love us, it's crazy," Barnes said. "It's amazing. You can just see how much they really care for us, how much they really love their team."

That youthful enthusiasm is what drew BitBuy to Barnes when the company began searching for a new brand ambassador to replace Kyle Lowry. A story from last season portrayed Barnes as the team's "resident hugger" and team motivator and BitBuy knew they'd found their guy, a spokesperson for BitBuy said.

"They have some fun ads," said Barnes who will star in the company's new series of commercials. "I feel like that kind of relates to me and the person I am."

It helps that Barnes is a financially-conscious person. He went viral on social media earlier in the season when he revealed he returned a $400 dress shirt he wore to a Raptors event because he didn't want to get stuck with the bill. Let's just say, it wasn't the first time he'd pulled the trick either.

"I'm trying to save money," Barnes said with a smile. "I always say I'm broke all the time. ... Every time I spend money it hurts my heart."

The words read like a longtime Torontonian and Barnes is genuine about it, despite his $33 million rookie contract. At one point during our interview, he asked to keep the $10 bill I pulled out to show him what Canadian currency looks like, a denomination he'd somehow never seen before.

"I like my money green," he said as he ruffled the bill through his fingers, perplexed by the plastic texture of the currency. "I don’t really touch the Canadian money."

OK, so Barnes isn't quite like the rest of us. But it's the blending of his two worlds, part-time NBA player, part-time Toronto man that has made him so endearing to fans across the country. It's that mutual love that sticks out for Barnes when he thinks about Toronto.

"The people, the fans love you, they really embrace who you are," he said. "I feel like that's one thing that's really different about here. I feel like in other places people can really grow on you on and change on you really quickly. I feel like here they really show you love and they’re really interested in you."

Barnes' rookie class still has another two years left on their current contract and the best ones will have another five-year extension tacked on to the end of that. After that, though, free agency awaits for the Class of 2021 and Barnes is more than ready to make a sales pitch on behalf of the Raptors, selling Toronto to his fellow classmates.

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