Drake

Underground Kings no more, Raptors bring in Drake to help rebrand franchise

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When the Nets moved to Brooklyn and were looking to rebrand the franchise — new logo, new look, new attitude — and let’s be honest, the white guys in Brooks Brothers suits are not the best at knowing what the common fan wants. So the Nets turned to rapper Jay Z, who owned a sliver of the team (less than 1 percent) but had a big say in the look of the uniforms and some of the amenities inside the Barclay’s Center.

The Raptors are doing much the same thing with Toronto native Drake — they don’t want to be “Underground Kings” they want to be in the spotlight.

Rebranding is coming to Toronto and Drake is going to have a hand in that.

“There’s a reason why we are going to submit to the league a new application for a new branding, a new image, new colors — not a new name, but new branding, and Drake will be an ambassador and help us forge this new vision, this new buzz, this new excitement where we are taking this organization,” said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (which owns the Raptors) CEO Tim Leiweke at a press conference Monday announcing Toronto would host the 2016 All-Star Game.

Drake will be the Raptors’ “global ambassador.” Whatever that means, exactly. He certainly is a big NBA fan, friend of star players such as LeBron James, and a guy you can see at games around the league all the time. He he will certainly have a hand in the rebranding process, as well as helping make the 2016 All-Star Game a celebration of Toronto.

“I just want you to know I’m extremely excited to be part of a team I grew up a fan of, a diehard fan of, of course I’m sure like everybody else from this city,” Drake said. “I’m excited for the new vision, basketball in Canada is bigger now than ever before. I think that All-Star 2016 is a phenomenal step, something I dreamed of as a kid.”

He said he would be happy to help recruit players. That’s nice. What really gets free agents to come to a city is money — GM Masai Ujiri has to create both cap space to get them and a culture where they think they can win. If that’s in place, a phone call from Drake doesn’t hurt.

The Raptors have already submitted some paperwork with the league and have a firm hired to help with the rebranding, Leiweke said. This likely would kick in for the 2015-16 season — in time for the All-Star Game.

There had been some talk the Raptors name — picked 20 years ago when the “Jurassic Park” movie franchise was huge — could change as there were never any velociraptor anywhere near Canada. Nope. The name stays.

But a new look is part of the image makeover the franchise could use. While Drake has his detractors as a rapper — watch the comments on this post, just mention Drake and the comments become a debate about him — he’s a better choice to upgrade the image than the guys and gals in suits with their focus groups and spread sheets.

“We have been meeting with Drake for a while now to talk about the involvement they want to have. This isn’t just about the NBA, it isn’t just about the 2016 All-Star Game, this is about the Raptors. This is a new day, a new age,” Leiweke said.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: