Bargnani returned to the Raptors’ lineup on Wednesday night after a lengthy period of time sitting on the shelf due to elbow and knee injuries. The designated franchise player was received by the fans with a healthy dose of boos. Some cheered, but you could hear the displeasure of the boo-birds mostly. It also didn’t help too much that the Raptors lost a close game to the Celtics by only 1 point.
Some media critics have been scolding these same fans and designating them as being classless for voicing their opinions on Bargnani. Coach Dwayne Casey lamented that Bargnani didn’t deserve it and was very disappointed with Toronto fans. In what has been so far a terrible year for Bargnani, the 3 point shooting center has weathered the storm with his quiet indifference and this has been part of the reason the fans are booing.
Certainly his time is Toronto is at an end and the formalities just have to be played out. When confronted over his rude reception, Bargnani stated, “(I had) no reaction. I tried to focus on the game, I heard some cheers, some boos, I tried to be aggressive and tried to help my team. It’s not my role to say if (the booing) is fair or unfair. I’ve just got to go in and try to contribute to the team.” This answer is is just a microcosm of the fans’ frustrations with Bargnani. Nothing seems to faze him. Win or lose, he just doesn’t care. He’s punched his clock and that’s the end of that.
So does Bargnani deserve all this booing? It’s a contentious question since the fans that booed were doing so for many reasons. Bargnani wasn’t booed because he didn’t deserve it. He was booed for his actions and statement on and off the court. His poor play for a franchise player stood out prominently. His interview with an Italian newspaper made it seem like he didn’t want to play for the Raptors anymore, calling them the worst team in the league. His reluctance to rebound like the 7 foot player he is annoyed everyone to no end. His injury even resulted in the team going through a nice winning stretch. So in effect the Raptors played better without their top player!
Toronto fans love nothing more than a hard worker. Just look at all the love JYD gets. The former Raptor possess no natural talents, but consistently hustled for rebounds and earned the love of the fans. Amir Johnson is quietly getting respect and love for his dedication to the Raptors. Johnson’s play is reminiscent of Antonio Davis, tough, relentless, and reliable. Vince Carter was the pride of Canadians before he turned into a traitor for giving up on the Raptors and leaving town for the Nets. In hockey, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark were Toronto icons of the underdog defying odds. Neither player won championships in Toronto, yet they left their heart and soul out on the ice every night and for this Toronto fans has immortalized Gilmour and Clark.
Perhaps it is the hard working Canadian ethic that Toronto fans were brought up with, which makes them this way. As a star athlete, to survive in Toronto, you’d better not be coasting it. Canadians know what hard work is, and what coasting is. Once you cross the line, forgiveness will be hard to find.
Perhaps Bargnani didn’t deserve the huge amount of negativity. Any situation where you are bullied by a mob like group is not really fair to the recipient. Bargnani at the end of it all is just a basketball player. He didn’t run anyone over. No cats were killed or grandmas bumped by this young man. But as a man who agreed to sign a 10 million dollars a year contract, he definitely should have tried to deliver the goods. A franchise player contract means you take the responsibility and consequences of being such a player.
Fans boo in every city. In Toronto it’s not any different. Vince Carter and Chris Bosh are booed everytime they return to Toronto, and they now expect it like the sun comes up every morning. Does this discourage high-caliber players from coming to Toronto? I doubt it. Top players play for money. That is the top reason. Everything else is secondary. Toronto is not a poor franchise and Canadian fans know they deserve more.
The only person who can save Bargnani right now is Bargnani himself. Want to stop the booing? Play like you are capable of. You’re a seven foot giant who can rebound and dish easily. Open your eyes and look at the games of various centers of your likeness. Yao Ming was great at using his height to draw double teams and dishing it out. We’ve rarely if ever have seen Bargnani do this. Show some hustle and fire and it’s guaranteed the fans will stop booing and even cheering you. Who knows you might have some time left in this city.
It’s doubtful though.