WHOA, CANADA! WHEN THE NBA HIT THE COURT IN TORONTO AND VANCOUVER, IT WAS CLEAR BOTH FANS AND PLAYERS HAD A LOT TO LEARN

November 20, 1995

That orange blot on the globe you in the U.S. think of as
Canada--if you think of it at all--takes some getting used to.
Kilometers. Celsius. Salmon-hued $2 bills worth a buck
forty-eight. But in the spirit of international kinship, look at
life from north to south for a moment and consider an everyday
American item like, say, an NBA team's dance squad.

In a land where Zambonis doing 360s is suitable between-period
entertainment, booty-shaking can be a shock to the system.
Canada doesn't shake its booty. Canada wouldn't know where to
find its booty.

Or take NBA scoring. Fifteen hours after the Vancouver Grizzlies
had tallied a near-record-low 62 points in a loss at San Antonio
last week, one Vancouver radio caller complained that basketball
has entirely too much of it. So don't think of the Grizzlies and
the Toronto Raptors as expansion teams but as a transplant
experiment. This is a test to see if a hot league can grow in a
cold country, which is why we've recruited Vancouver guard
Darrick Martin, who hails from Compton, Calif., to answer a few
questions about his new home.

Q: Who's the prime minister of Canada?

A: Is it a woman? (Jean Chretien is not a woman.)

Q: How many provinces are in Canada?

A: 12.

(There are 10 provinces and two territories. Twelve is the
answer to this question: How many points did the Grizzlies' top
scorer, Chris King, have in the 111-62 loss to the Spurs?)

There will be lots of time for a makeup exam after the Grizzlies
figure out that their city isn't Portland with a customs stop at
the airport and that the sport they play was invented by a
Canadian. James Naismith devised the game at the YMCA in
Springfield, Mass., but he was from Almonte, Ont., and the
Raptors and the Grizzlies both underscore the game's historical
link to Canada. Toronto's 80-year-old consultant, John McLendon,
has a brick from the original Springfield Y that he will donate
to the Naismith Centre in Almonte. (If they need more bricks,
the Raptors, who shot 34.6% against the Sacramento Kings on Nov.
8, can oblige.)

The euphoria over NBA hoops that gripped Vancouver and Toronto
the first weekend of the season had, by the second, subsided
into something sensible but swell. Amazingly the Grizzlies won
their opener on Nov. 3 by 12 over the Trail Blazers in Portland
and then beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime at home two
nights later. But since then they lost four straight through
Sunday, and while the second home crowd rocked new, 19,193-seat
General Motors Place--"If those were hockey people, they sure
didn't sound like it," Los Angeles Clipper coach Bill Fitch said
after a 98-91 win--it was still almost 2,000 shy of the home
opener sellout. Meanwhile Toronto also won its home opener,
against the New Jersey Nets, in front of 33,306 at the SkyDome
but then dropped its next five, including tough losses to the
Indiana Pacers, the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets on
the road and to the Phoenix Suns in a home game that attracted
only 25,207 fans.

Canada is still opening its eyes to the NBA, but it has begun to
recognize what it is seeing. As the Raptors sleepwalked to their
19-point loss to Sacramento in home game number two, a SkyDome
fan bellowed at somnambulant center Oliver Miller, "Hey, Oliver,
try playing a little defense."

He didn't even say please.

Raptor swingman Willie Anderson gazed up at the SkyDome's upper
deck during both national anthems that night and shook his head
in wonder. There were people there--thousands of
them--eavesdropping on the game as much as watching it, filling
$5 seats hardly in the same postal code as the court. (Note to
Darrick Martin: postal code is Canadian for zip code. This
question will be on the next test.) "They've got to love the
game or the prices," Anderson said. "It's like we're out there
playing and these people are watching on television."

At least there will be something good to watch until the Raptors
move into Air Canada Centre in two years. The Toronto fans
already have a folk hero in 5'10" lefthanded guard Damon
Stoudamire, who in his first three games had three consecutive
double doubles and had taken it straight at Michael Jordan for
22 points and 10 assists in Chicago on Nov. 7. The question
isn't whether he will be a big-time point guard--teammate John
Salley sees glimmers of Tiny Archibald--but what his nickname
will be.

Coach Brendan Malone calls him Little Big Man. Salley likes
Bigga Smalls. On his right biceps Stoudamire has a tattoo of a
hoops-playing Mighty Mouse, another possible nickname. "Between
Little Big Man and Rook and everything," Stoudamire says, "I
haven't heard my name in a long time."

When he visited Toronto for the draft last summer, Stoudamire
heard only boos. Toronto cognoscenti, who last had an NBA team
in 1947, the late Huskies, were upset either because they had
wanted the Raptors to pick creaky-kneed Ed O'Bannon or perhaps
because they'd heard that Stoudamire had a lousy set shot. But
general manager Isiah Thomas mocked the conventional wisdom that
says you build around a center. With Toronto holding the seventh
pick, Thomas doubted he would find a center worth building
around. He'd won two titles with the Detroit Pistons while
playing alongside Bill Laimbeer, who would be hard-pressed to
make anybody's list of the top 30 alltime centers. So Thomas,
the premier small guard of his day, tried to replicate himself
in Stoudamire. You know what you know.

"When I saw Damon," Thomas says, "I saw someone who could make
difficult plays look simple. And he always seemed alone out
there. If you look at Michael Jordan or Jerry Rice, they always
seem to be by themselves, everything fades into the background.
All you watch is them. Damon's like that. Of all the players in
the draft, I thought he was the most ready to step in from Day
One."

This is the lure of expansion: new team, new town, a blank page
on which to scribble. For a Benoit Benjamin, the much maligned
NBA vet plucked by Vancouver in the expansion draft, or a Chris
King, who played in Greece last year and was signed as a free
agent during training camp, expansion offers the possibility of
a new beginning. Benjamin had a 29-point, 13-rebound performance
in the win over Portland, and King's buzzer-beater tip-in edged
Minnesota, but judging by the decibel level at GM Place,
Vancouver can't get over its fascination with Bryant (Big
Country) Reeves, although everyone else has.

The 7-foot, 292-pound Reeves, who was drafted just ahead of
Stoudamire, has soft hands and the sweet turnaround jumper he
perfected at Oklahoma State, but he is also ponderous, lacks a
jump hook and has shown Canadian politesse under the basket. "A
lot of it is a matter of strength," says coach Brian Winters,
who has assistant Rex Hughes giving Reeves 30 minutes of
remedial big-man work daily. "He also needs to lose 10 or 15
pounds. With a more muscular body his game will change, but
that's not something you'll see in six months or a year. It
might take two or three, but he'll turn into a frontline
center." Reeves showed a flash of the future in San Antonio,
with nine points, but he was doing it in garbage time against
the Ensign, Will Perdue, not the Admiral, David Robinson.

Despite the limits imposed by his skills and physique, Big
Country retains his charm for the fans. "This is my first time
up here, and it's beautiful," he says. "My only concern was the
weather. I thought it was always cold with a lot of snow. The
weather's been great, maybe a little rainy. It's not cold, and
there's no moose in the street." This, of course, is Reeves's
little joke. Everyone knows the moose hang out in the office
towers.

Toronto, the epicenter of Canadian money, media and the 4.3
million people living in southern Ontario, was a no-brainer for
expansion, but Vancouver's acceptance as the 29th franchise was
a mild surprise. Until a few months ago Vancouver fans thought
Big Country was China. Moreover, there are only 1.7 million
people on British Columbia's Lower Mainland--Vancouver ranks 21st
in population among NBA cities. In sum, this is a small market
with a small basketball subculture, even by Toronto's minimal
standards.

But if hockey is the game Canadian fathers teach their children,
basketball is the sport the dads will learn from their kids. The
Grizzlies will go anywhere to proselytize. General manager Stu
Jackson drove nearly three hours round-trip in August to give a
three-minute speech opening the Western Canada Summer Games
basketball tournament. He hopped a small plane to address 20
people in a parking lot at a three-on-three tournament. He spoke
and shot some hoops for 3 1/2 hours with Northwest Ceiling and
Dry Wall Bureau conventioneers in Vancouver. (He may not have
sold a ticket, but when he does work on his house, we're talking
wholesale.)

"You saw it happening," says Jackson, former coach of the New
York Knicks and the University of Wisconsin. "I did a talk show
back to Vancouver from the All-Star Game, and the first call was
from an elderly lady. She said, 'Some years ago I saw the
Globetrotters, and I was wondering if you plan to employ any of
those tactics with our team.' Her word: tactics. Four months
later I'm on radio, and a guy calls and says, 'With John Salley
available [in the 11th round of the expansion draft], why'd you
take Benoit Benjamin?' Not 'could you please explain' or 'what
were the reasons,' but 'why?' Why? If I got that call in New
York, I'd think, The jerk. But this is Vancouver. That call was
very good."

Though Salley has taken Stoudamire under his wing and Benjamin
has shown signs of drifting toward his old preoccupied ways,
these are flip sides of the same loonie. (Darrick: That's what
Canadians call their $1 coin.) Either way, there are 60 losses
in it for both teams. The Raptors and the Grizzlies are
expansion brothers, and although Thomas says, "I like to measure
our success against Houston, Chicago, Orlando," it is the
Grizzlies with whom the Raptors will always be linked.

They share a time and a country. Each will be the other's
yardstick in wins, attendance, profitability, licensing appeal.
Almost a year before their first games, both already ranked
among the NBA's top 10 in merchandising. The Raptor logo leads
the growling Grizzly--but Vancouver is confident its bear will
have more staying power. "Sure when you're eight, you love the
Raptor," says Larry Donen, vice president of properties and
licensing for Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment, which owns the
Grizzlies, "but when you're 14, you'll say, 'What are you
wearing Barney for?'"

Whoa! In your face. The marketers already are talking trash. You
know, Canada might have this league down cold.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Little Raptors and big flag-wavers got an eyeful; Jimmy King and Tracy Murray got their fill of Phoenix. [Jimmy King and Tracy Murray playing against Phoenix Suns; young fan wearing Raptor mask] COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above--fan waving Canadian flag] COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Big Country has been a big hit with the Vancouver fans, but he has yet to hit many hoops like this. [Bryant (Big Country) Reeves dunking basketball] TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Thomas saw himself when he drafted the diminutive Stoudamire, who is off to a high-flying start. [Isiah Thomas; Damon Stoudamire]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
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Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)