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Under Further Review – 

A Nation United – Let the parade begin! It was amazing to watch the country come together in support of the Toronto Raptors as they scaled to the top of the NBA Mountain after 24 long years.  They not only brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Canada for the first time, they captured a nation in the process as so many Canadians embraced the team.

Thanks to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for pointing out the fact the first ever NBA game was held in Toronto (the Toronto Huskies were an NBA charter member) and that the game of basketball was invented by a Canadian.  Dr. James Naismith would be proud!

And who says you need three superstars to win an NBA Championship? The highest drafted player on the Raptors was Kawhi Leonard and he was selected 15th overall. It was a total team effort and Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri proved to be a genius in roster construction. He could have played it safe after the team won 59 games a year ago.  But instead, he fired Duane Casey, the NBA Coach of the Year, and followed it up by trading the team’s most popular player, all-star guard DeMar DeRozan. Ujiri would then engineer two blockbuster deals for Leonard and Marc Gasol.  The net result is the Raptors revamped their starting lineup with four new faces in less than 12 months.

The composition of the team brilliantly reflects the City of Toronto itself and its broad diversity. Pascal Siakham is from Cameroon and speaks perfect French.  Serge Ibaka is from the Republic of Congo.  Marc Gasol is from Barcelona, Spain. OG Anunoby was born in London, England to Nigerian parents. Ujiri himself was born in Bournemouth, England before his parents moved back to Nigeria. His mother is from Kenya. It’s a melting pot that fits Canada’s fabric to perfection.

It was a 61-day Cinderella journey.  The turning point was game three of the Eastern Conference final against Milwaukee.  Down 2-0 in the series, the Raptors pulled out game three in double overtime and never looked back. And who can forget Kawhi’s buzzer-beater in game seven against Philadelphia? They even overcame the referees who appeared to be hell-bent to hand game six to the Warriors even after the NBA issued an apology for a missed call against Gasol in the previous game.

Minutes after the celebration began there was already speculation that Ujiri might be headed to the Washington to reconstruct the Wizards. His future may ultimately be intertwined with the free agent decision from Kawhi. But for now, let’s enjoy the ride and what it’s meant to fans across the country. History was made and they can’t take that away now.

Let’s Not Celebrate – While cities across the country embraced the Raptors and joined in the party with their own Jurassic Parks, Vancouver was again No Fun City. Vancouver Green Councillor Michael Wiebe publicly pitched the idea of a “Jurassic Park West” and urged the city to approve a location where fans could gather and watch the game.  What did Council do?  They rejected the motion of course, claiming that the city did not have sufficient time to prepare. It was embarrassing.  TSN showed images of fans celebrating in communities across the country while Vancouver fans were left in the cold. Inexcusable!

Here’s the official statement from the city – “Events of this nature require adequate lead time to plan and execute successfully, and while we reviewed plans for a potential viewing event, we were not able to identify a location that was suitable and available for a series of up to seven games.”

Worst to First – What can you say about the St. Louis Blues? They were dead last in the NHL on January 1 and somehow turned themselves into Stanley Cup Champions.  St. Louis went 50 years without a title so how can you not be happy for the City of St. Louis and Blues fans who have supported the team for so long.

The Blues proved to be road warriors.  Their ten road wins ties an all-time NHL playoff record.  They won three games on the road in the opening round against Winnipeg and had three more against the Bruins. Back in January, General Manager Doug Armstrong was rumoured to be putting all of his top players on the block including Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues season changed the moment they called up goalie Jordan Binnington and inserted him into the lineup. Craig Berube took over as head coach and pressed all the right buttons. Suddenly the shoe fit on a Cinderella season. Like the Raptors, the Blues survived an early scare when Patrick Maroon scored in overtime of game seven against Dallas in round two.

Thankfully for Canucks fans, they won’t have to watch teams congratulate the Bruins as Stanley Cup Champions at the NHL Draft here next weekend.

The Way Forward – The Vancouver Canucks are now just a year away from joining the 50-year futility club. General Manager Jim Benning is under heavy pressure and is reportedly looking at all options to improve his hockey club.  Problem is, Benning is finding that most of the Canucks have little or no trade value. It’s really tying his hands in any potential trade talks.

Sabres Rattled – From the outside, it sure looks like agents are getting the best of NHL general managers in contract negotiations. What were the Buffalo Sabres thinking when they signed Jeff Skinner to an eight-year, $72 million dollar extension? With unrestricted free agency just a few weeks away, they seemingly panicked and offered him the moon. From where I’m sitting, $9 million a year for a guy with a history of concussions is far too risky. The Sabres had better take out some good insurance because that contract may be a huge albatross before very long.

Skinner has already played nine seasons in the NHL and there’s no way he has eight more good seasons in him.  When will general managers learn to walk away from UFA’s when the risk outweighs the benefits? Something tells me Lou Lamoriello would have waived him goodbye when the stakes reached that high.

Skinner will receive an immediate $15 million dollar bonus under the terms of the deal and $10 million per season for the first five years with a full no trade clause. GM’s around the league must be flinching because this deal raises the bar on contracts significantly.

Ugly Americans – If you witnessed it, you would no doubt agree, the excessive celebrations by the U.S. Women’s soccer team at the Women’s World Cup in France was one of the worst displays of poor sportsmanship in memory. The U.S. team mopped the floor against Thailand on route to a 13-0 victory that was the biggest margin of victory in tournament history.

After running up the score to 9-0, U.S. captain Megan Rapinoe held her arms out like airplane wings, twirled and then slid on the ground, kicking her legs into the air repeatedly before continuing the celebration with the American bench. It was bush, classless and disrespectful. What’s worse, former Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle says she has received death threats for her TV criticism on TSN of the U.S. team.

Listen, I know margin of victory can potentially be important in a World Cup but this was over the top. Kyle, who does an excellent job on TSN, was not impressed by the unbridled American jubilation after goals. “As a Canadian we would just never ever think of doing something like that. For me it’s disrespectful, it’s disgraceful.” Kyle later reported on social media that her comments had prompted death threats. “I did say I thought it was excessive and disrespectful the goal celebrations of the American team once the score hit 8-0. Everyone is allowed their opinions towards my thoughts 100% but please leave the death threats!”

Now you know who I will be cheering AGAINST in the Women’s World Cup!

Canuck Dream Team Basketball Edition – On the heels of the Raptors success, it makes you wonder what the next Canadian Olympic basketball team might look like if you were making the selections today. It would be competitive since there were 13 Canadians playing in the NBA this season. You have a lot of length and strength in the front court with the likes of Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Trey Lyles, Kelly Olynyk, Dillon Brooks and Dwight Powell. Khem Birch of the Orlando Magic and Chris Boucher of the Raptors would also be in the mix.

In the backcourt, you could plug in Shae Gilgious-Alexander of the LA Clippers at point guard along with the talented University of Florida sophomore Andrew Nebhard. Cory Joseph of the Pacers would add a veteran presence. The shooting guard position would be a massive strength with Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets and rising star RJ Barrett, who could also play small forward.  For three-point shooting, you could bring Nik Stauskas off the bench.  That’s a total of 14 players plus you have several others who are playing in Europe and have represented Canada previously.

As I have mentioned before, more than 90 Canadian kids played major US college basketball this year and as many as seven Canadians could go in the upcoming NBA Draft.  It certainly looks promising for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Olympics.  Care to dream?

Sherman Tanked – The firing of head coach Mike Sherman by the Montreal Alouettes concludes one of the oddest marriages in CFL history.  Why the Als tabbed Sherman as head coach in the first place is beyond all comprehension.  He had zero CFL experience and showed no signs of figuring out the Canadian game.

It was one of the most bizarre hires in CFL history. Sherman hadn’t coached professional football since 2005 when he was fired by the Green Bay Packers. His four-year run at Texas A&M ended in 2011. When he was hired by the Als, Sherman was out of football altogether. His last coaching gig was a high school team in North Eastham, Massachusetts, going 1-and-10 and 3-and-8 in his two seasons at Nauset Regional High School.

The fact that the Alouettes tanked Sherman one week before the season is excusable. He had to go so get it over with. Tabbing Khari Jones as his interim replacement was as good as it gets. Jones is a CFL lifer and can run an offense. His biggest problem is the Als don’t have a legitimate starting quarterback. The choice is between Antonio Pipkin and Vernon Adams Jr. and if you have heard of these two guys, you win a case of Ragu sauce. (A Beat the Clock game show reference!)  Needless to say, the Als are dreadful and it’s going to be a long season in Montreal. Don’t be surprised if new ownership, once it is in place, sends out a desperate SOS to one Wally Buono.

The Maitre D – If you’ve been watching the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, you may have noticed that Phil Mickelson is still trying to make a fashion statement with the long-sleeved, buttoned-down shirts. Does he actually think this is going to catch on? Phil looks like a Maitre ‘D at a second rate restaurant. Maybe he’s slipping out at night and working a second job as a waiter. Burn the shirts Phil! It’s not working.

Looks like Pebble is showing its teeth this week. Gary Woodland rode a hot putter to the 36-hole lead but I don’t see that continuing through Sunday. Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka look like the three to watch. I like Xander Schauffele as a dark-horse.

Golden Girl – It looks like Canada has yet another rising star on the tennis circuit. 16-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez captured the junior girls’ singles title at the French Open, becoming the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam title since Eugenie Bouchard won the Wimbledon junior title in 2012.  It’s incredible how many great young tennis players Canada is producing.

Get Well Soon – I would like to send out best wishes to my great friend Bill Morphy who’s in hospital in Ottawa. Bill’s tougher than a two dollar steak and is sure to be back ripping into the Senators before we know it.  One of my musical heroes is the great Taj Mahal. Here he is gigging with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band with the legendary Jerry Douglas on lap slide.  The song is “Leavin’ Trunk.”

I had the pleasure of booking Terry Evans and Hans Theessink for one of my concert series a few years ago.  Check them out in studio performing “Delta Time.”