Raptors Record Reality Check: The Little White Lie

How a 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

Originally published on the Amateur Sport blog

(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 have 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 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 league and the pressures on the athletes (the Raptors have the third highest record in the NBA in games missed due to injuries), any such streak is a real accomplishment.

This credulous acceptance of the fabrication began to go far 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 have they ever lost back-to-back games.

Just a mistake? The streaks of all Toronto teams with the 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.

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.” They went 27-0 in four Olympiads and won games by an average score of 69-11.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 is 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. 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). ….

“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 hyperbole was now being found daily in the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun. Bruce Arthur, a 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.

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, the Brooklyn blew up the growing lie in a New York minute. They burned the Raptors in a 101-91 blow-out. Toronto’s points were 30 less than the average 121.2 points per game over the previous 15 games.

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.” But it makes one ask what else is being lied about? The hubris and hyperbole [3] of the Raptors is such that they went so far as to proclaim themselves as “world champions” after capturing the NBA championship in 2019. 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 events, what about the facts regarding major issues in the society?

Notes

1. The Raptors, Leafs, Toronto FC and Argos are all owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. This oligopoly in turn is primarily owned by the parent companies of TSN and Sportsnet, Bell Media and Rogers Communications respectively. Rogers also owns the 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.

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.”

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Filed under Canada, Media, Journalism & Disinformation

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