Raptors Record Reality Check: The Little White Lie

How a little white lie manufactured by Raptors TV about a winning streak took “on a life of its own” in the mass media

By Our Senior NBA Insider

(February 6, updated February 7, 9, 10, 13) – Congratulations – the Toronto-based  basketball team and defending NBA champion that all the US pundits dismissed this season won a franchise record 15 games in a row.

Last Wednesday night last week (February 5th), the Toronto Raptors came from being down 19 points to beat Indiana Pacers in the last minute 119-118, its 12th straight win. They finished the game on a 11-0 run, their defence forcing Indiana to turn the ball over four times.

Throughout the game, broadcasters Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong on TSN kept reminding viewers euphorically that 12 games would be “the longest winning streak of Toronto professional sports.” This “fact” was a fabrication, as we shall see. Messrs Devlin, Armstrong and Leo Rautins are all directly employed by the Raptors – not TSN or Sportsnet. [1]

Examples were given of the longest winning streaks from the Toronto Maple Leafs (10 games … in the previous century), Toronto FC, Toronto Argonauts, 10 straight in 1997, and the Toronto Blue Jays, who have won 11 games five times. The majority of Raptors’ wins had come against teams with sub-.500 records. Nevertheless, given the frenzied and obscene schedules dictated by the professional sports cartels and the pressures imposed on the athletes (the Raptors have the third highest record in the NBA in games missed due to injuries despite the most heralded medical and training staff), any such streak is a real accomplishment.

This credulous acceptance of the fabrication began to be embraced well beyond Raptors TV. The next morning, the National Post and Toronto Sun both declared “On Wednesday night, the Raptors put up the longest win streak of all major Toronto sports teams.”

But what was the evidence? How is it that they all “forgot” the streak of the Toronto Wolfpack, a professional rugby team which won 23 games straight until just last weekend? It saw their winning streak snapped in a 28-10 loss to Castleford Tigers in their Betfred Super League debut in England. Nor had they ever lost back-to-back games.

Just a mistake? The streaks of all Toronto teams with the notable exception of Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League and the Marlies of the American Hockey League were documented by Lori Ewing of Canadian Press on February 4. Her article was in the Toronto Globe & Mail. Is it because the Wolfpack is the only team not owned by Bell or Rogers monopolies? [1] Is it because, apart from the Argos, all are members of private US sports cartels and thus defined as “major.” Is this not reminiscent of the division of sport by the media into a hierarchy of “major” and “minor” according to the dollar and TV cable rights? Is it because “alternate facts” – and sports – do not count?

On Friday, February 7, Toronto went into Indianapolis in a return match, pulling out a 115-106 victory against a good team in another intense back-and-forth match this time broadcast by Rogers Sportsnet, the 13th straight victory. Mr Devlin and Leo Rautins of Raptors TV now extended the geographical expanse of the original fabrication from Toronto to include all Canada. When the former lauded the streak as the longest in Toronto, the latter cited a 14-game winning streak by the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and declared “two more games, they will have the longest winning streak in Canadian professional sports history.” I pointed out the error on a Twitter message to Mr Rautins, but he did not reply.

What emerged at this point was that sports history was now being defined according to preconceived ideological criteria. The developing narrative of the streak and history itself were being classified according to self-serving capital-centric criteria: membership in the private, mainly U.S. professional sport cartels. Their monopolistic control extends even to history.

In  fact, the greatest winning streak in Canadian sports history was that of the all-Canadian women’s basketball team, the Edmonton Commercial Graduates, an amateur team founded in the fall of 1914, who won 502 of 522 games they played in before they were disbanded at the start of the Second World War. James Naismith, the Ontario-born doctor who invented basketball, called the Grads the “finest team that ever stepped on the floor.”Long before the Toronto Raptors the Edmonton Grads were champions. They went 27-0 in four Olympiads and won games by an average score of 69-11. In a 1950 Canadian Press poll of sports editors and sportscasters, the Grads were selected Canada’s greatest basketball team, women or men, of the first half-century.

Thus, the hoopla of the “streak” is not about winning streaks but canned corporate propaganda. Any such winning streak, professional or amateur, is an incredible accomplishment of the athletes to be celebrated but how can one be elevated above all others? Heck, I played on a field hockey team, the Cougars, that went seven years in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the amateur Nova Scotia Field Hockey League without losing a single match. By any definition, that was a dynasty.

Later that night, Sportsnet mentioned for the first time that, in fact, the first-place Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA have won 18 straight this year, but in the context of promoting that if the Raptors win their next four games, reaching 17, they will be playing Milwaukee for the 18th following the All-Star break. That match will be February 25 in Toronto. The media-orchestrated suspense began to build.

On Saturday, February 8, Toronto snatched victory from the jaws of defeat 119-118, barely surviving a 4th quarter comeback by the Brooklyn Nets in another competitive match.

Before the game, Kate Beirness of TSN declared, “This is a remarkable record and it’s Canada wide, Jack.” On cue, Mr Armstrong responded, repeating Rautins’ comparison with the winning streak by Calgary in the CFL.  On the other hand, guard Fred VanVleet, asked by Kayla Grey about the streak after the win, said, “We don’t care. . . we’re just trying to build something towards the end of the year.” She again reiterated that it was the “longest streak in Canadian sports history.” That night’s Sports Centre later featured a professional infographic favourably comparing the streak with Canadian teams in other “major” leagues – with the exception of rugby and lacrosse.

The media went whole hog embellishing the little white lie of Raptors TV/TSN/Sportsnet amidst euphoria about the streak, as if it was playoff time. On Monday, February 10, a  137-126 victory over the Timberwolves pushed Toronto’s winning streak to 15 games. This time it was Eric Davis on Sportsnet trumpeting the “longest streak” line. Allowing the lowly though talented Timberwolves 75 points in the first half, regardless of their undeniable tight defence in the second half, should be cause for concern if this is a championship calibre team. You cannot turn it off, turn it on in the playoffs.

On Tuesday February 11, the CBC Buzzer newsletter declared

“The Raptors have the longest winning streak in Canadian history.”

Canada’s public broadcaster took the propaganda of a private monopoly and embellished it ever further. Notice the incoherence in how the CBC uncritically frames the little white lie of the Raptors’ propaganda machine [2] to be technically true, and then contradicts itself. It reported:

“And they’ve made Canadian pro sports history in the process.

“The Raptors roared to their 15th win in a row on Monday, beating the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves 137-126.

“The win streak topped the Calgary Stampeders, who won 14 straight in 2016, for the longest single-season win streak from a major Canadian-based professional team (NBA, NHL, MLB and CFL). ….

Now the bizarre contradiction:

“Toronto’s new trans-Atlantic rugby team the Wolfpack won 23 straight games last year.” (Raptors push historic win streak to 15 games after fending off Timberwolves)

Similar fabrication mixed in gushing hyperbole was now being found daily in the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and the Globe and Mail. Bruce Arthur, the prominent Star columnist, heralded “the longest streak by any major Canadian team ever” in a banner article titled “Streak takes on a life of its own” in the print edition (February 11) and “Long live the streak — the Raptors continue to win in the most mysterious ways” in the online edition. One wonders if these journalists wear Raptors’ t-shirts at work while typing this balderdash. This isn’t even close to the longest winning streak in NBA history. The Raptors were less than halfway to the 33 consecutive games the Lakers won during the 1971-72 season. The CBC Buzzer did remind that basketball has always lent itself to long winning streaks, and there are 32 in NBA history longer than the Raptors’.

On Wednesday, February 12, an inspired Brooklyn team blew up the growing lie in a New York minute. They burned the Big Apple wannabes in a 101-91 blow-out. In an insipid effort, Toronto’s points were 30 less than the average 121.2 points per game over the previous 15 games. On February 13, Cathal Kelly, the prominent Globe columnist and not one to be left behind, repeated the new mantra: “That loss ended the best winning streak in the history of Canadian pro sport at 15. Good riddance.” [4]

The issue of a winning streak is a tautology. In fact basketball as in most cartel sports is just as much about losing as winning-is-everything, the only thing. When Toronto won the NBA title last year, thirty-one other teams had lost. The Raptors had lost for every year since 1996. Its losing streak is dwarfed by the other MLSE property, the Maple Leafs of the NHL which seems to be  millenial. No Canadian-based franchise has won either the NHL or the MLB championship since the early 1990s, a three-decade losing streak rarely admitted to by this media. Conversely it can be said that it is the financial oligarchs who own MLSE who have the longest winning streak as it is they who possess the most profitable and richest sports oligopoly in Canada. The sports cartels thrive off of rivalries and elimination of its members. [5] The aura of any sporting event or season is defeat; most sports are structured as elaborate eliminations with the aim of maximizing profit for members of the cartel of the owners. It reminds me of the most deeply affecting blues statement about losing as the way it is – the last line of a song we learned as children and we are encouraged to sing every time we go to the park to see our favourite team: “‘Cause it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”

All this may seem to be a very minor matter, and it is. One may even rationalize, “heh, it’s just entertainment, go with the flow.” My old cricket team-mate Peter Elias used to proclaim, “the game’s the thing.” But this game makes one ask what else is being lied about? The Canadian media in general has proved a worthy representative of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment oligopoly, and it would seem that the very name of Raptors need only be pronounced to put everybody in a fool’s paradise. The hubris and hyperbole [3] of MLSE is such that they went so far as to proclaim the Raptors as “world champions” after capturing the NBA championship in 2019 at the expense of its 31 U.S. partners. The most striking expression of the connection of money to information was the emotional word that Raptors President Masai Ujuri gave in his closing press conference of the season that the Raptors would be reserving a ring for Doug Smith, basketball columnist of the Toronto Star, in gratitude for promoting the team through his reporting.

Now a little white has become official truth, repeated over and over this past week. Little white lies have a tendency to morph into bigger lies if unchecked. If objective facts can be dismissed by the sports media about such trite events, what about the facts regarding major issues in the society?

– Tony Seed

Notes

1. The Raptors, Leafs, Toronto FC and Argos are all owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE). This oligopoly in turn is primarily owned by the parent corporations of TSN and Sportsnet, Bell Media and Rogers Communications respectively. Rogers also owns the Toronto Blue Jays. ESPN has a 30 per cent stake in TSN; ESPN in turn is owned by The Walt Disney Corporation, which also owns ABC, Marvel, Disney Studios, and A&E networks.

MLSE has corporate partnerships with Scotiabank/Tangerine and Sun Life. Google is a prominent advertiser on Raptors TV.

This is an outcome of a trend from the 1980s and 1990s when the strategies of cartelization, continentalism and integration, such as NAFTA free trade agreement, included the ongoing integration of professional sports into the larger North American entertainment economy intensified and expanded. Professional sports assumed an increasingly central role in the continental – and global – strategies of the major media oligopolies.

2. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment reportedly employs more than 300 staff in its public relations department.

3. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines hubris as “a way of talking or behaving that is too proud” and hyperbole as “a way of speaking or writing that makes someone or something sound bigger, better, more, etc. than they are.”

4. In a comment, Globe reader HUCK replied aptly on February 14:

“I guess if it didn’t happen in Toronto it didn’t happen.

“The 1949 Calgary Stampeders finished in 1st place in the W.I.F.U. with a 13–1 record. They appeared in the Grey Cup and attempted to repeat as champions but they lost to the Montreal Alouettes. On October 22, 1949, the Stampeders recorded their first loss in almost two years (last loss was October 27, 1947) against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. They established a CFL record for the most consecutive regular season wins with a 22-game winning streak from August 25, 1948, to October 22, 1949.”

5. Another way to describe it is that a sports league as a whole is the business and that the other pro sports leagues and other forms of entertainment are the league’s true competitors. If the NHL is McDonald’s then you could look at the NFL as Burger King, Major League Baseball as Wendy’s and the NBA as Jack-in-the-Box.

That’s the way these private sports empires approach their business. Here is how National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue described his league’s operation to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee back in the late 1990’s.

“It is the way business partners conduct themselves, seeking to compete not with each other, but with other outside independent competitors in the marketplace, including other sports leagues and other sports and non-sports entertainment,” Tagliabue said.

1 Comment

Filed under Athletes, Basketball

One response to “Raptors Record Reality Check: The Little White Lie

  1. Pingback: Raptors Record Reality Check: The Little White Lie | Tony Seed's Weblog

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