TORONTO — Lending his distinctive black and gold OVO style to the Toronto Raptors, Drake is thrilled to be giving back to the place where he started.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri and the Canadian rapper announced plans to grow their partnership Wednesday with a new program called Welcome Toronto. Under the program, Drake and the Raptors will donate $1 million to refurbish local community basketball courts and another $2 million to Canada Basketball, the national organizing body.
"The thing I'm most proud of this partnership is the million dollars that we're going to be giving to the city to re-do these courts," said Drake at a news conference on Wednesday before Toronto's game against the Detroit Pistons. "Hopefully to create an amazing atmosphere for anyone in that community to come out and either play casual basketball or potentially breed the next generation of Canadian superstar basketball players."
The Raptors will also host six Welcome Toronto-themed home games this season — beginning Jan. 26 against the Utah Jazz — where the Raptors will wear their Drake brand OVO uniforms and debut a new black and gold home court. The other games are Jan. 28 against the L.A. Lakers, Feb. 2 against Portland, March 9 against Houston, March 23 against Brooklyn and April 6 against Indiana.
Flanked by mannequins wearing the gold-and-black OVO uniforms, Ujiri also spoke about the importance of creating a welcoming atmosphere in Toronto through basketball.
"To me, everybody is equal, blue, black, pink, LBGTQ, everybody, all of it is the same to me," said Ujiri. "You have to look at the world that way. Honestly, you know what makes me more proud than anything? When you go to those basketball games here, you look outside and you look at the crowd, and I don't know in the NBA if there's a more diverse crowd or fan base.
"We're proud of it. So many people, friends, visitors, come to the game and they say, 'Wow, look at all kinds of people.'"
Born and raised in Toronto, Drake has been a global ambassador for the Raptors since September 2013 and is a regular fixture at games with seasons tickets right beside the home-team bench.
"I'm just really excited to still be here after all these years," said Drake, gesturing around him in the atrium of Air Canada Centre. "It was surreal when it first happened and it's still surreal to be sitting here with this guy and being able to give back to the best city in the world."
Ujiri is excited to see what Canada Basketball does with the donation, noting that Canadian teams have been excelling in international competition recently.
"They continue to grow, to make noise, someway, somehow. The youth continue to come up. It's encouraging," said Ujiri after the news conference. "It started with Vince (Carter), and it's continued with Drake and the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, the young players playing with the Raptors. Everything encourages them — I'm not sure if I can mention names, but the young players around the league, it's strong.
"You see the prospects. We're checking them out. We see who the Canadians are. We know. We'll continue to (celebrate) being Canada's only basketball team."
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