MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY

Rappers partnering with NBA teams has been a positive ongoing trend for the past few seasons and has proven to be in the best interest of the artist, the team, and the city. Jay-Z — who has since sold his share — became a .067 per cent owner of the Brooklyn Nets in 2012 and Drake became the Toronto Raptors’ global ambassador in 2013. Usher and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Will Smith and the Philadelphia 76ers are other examples of successful partnerships.

Last week, Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri and Drake launched the new “Welcome Toronto” program where Drake and the Raptors will donate $1 million to refurbish community basketball courts and another $2 million to Canada Basketball. In addition, the team will host six OVO-themed games in the 2017–2018 season. These games will have a black and gold OVO-influenced court and jerseys.

“I’m just really excited to still be here after all of these years,” Drake said, “It’s still surreal to be sitting here with [Masai Ujiri] and being able to give back to the best city in the world.”

Although he is not a paid partner and does not own any shares of the team, Drake’s partnership provides him with the ability to expand his brand by creating an OVO, Raptors collaboration T-Shirt line and installing a “Hotline Bling” booth at the Air Canada Centre. In a recent NBA.com article, Drake said, “Growth is inevitable with this partnership. It’s something that I’m still proud and excited about and it’s something that still makes all other rappers jealous.”

Drake played a major role in the 2016 All-Star Weekend events and branding. There are also dedicated Drake nights at the Air Canada Centre where free OVO T-shirts are handed out. In addition, he consults with the team regarding their overall image and advertising.

Leiweke said, “I think he’s helped with the culture. I think that’s his biggest accomplishment.” However, when Leiweke left his position in 2015, people were concerned that Drake’s All-Star Weekend presence might be the last of his Raptors association.

Luckily, Drake’s presence is still felt entering 2018. His eagerness to be a part of the franchise has caused his role with the team to expand. Despite their clearly mutually beneficial partnership, Drake’s actual role as global ambassador was still undefined and somewhat vague until last week.

Over the past several years, Canadian players such as Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, and Kelly Olynyk have found success in the NBA. Drake’s influence and connection to the country’s only NBA team will now have direct impact on Canada’s overall basketball presence and should continue the steady rise of professional Canadian basketball players.

Drake had previously been the Raptors’ global ambassador since 2013. At the time, he described the partnership as, “One of the best days of my life… I feel like I’m part of the franchise at the most exciting part of franchise history.”

On that same day, Jay-Z sent Drake a congratulatory email.

Despite owning a tiny portion of the Nets, Jay-Z had an enormous influence on the team. He facilitated their new jersey design and their music choice during games. He helped officiate the stadium’s security policy and he performed eight shows at the team’s Barclays Arena.

Since 2013, Drake’s positive influence on the Raptors’ franchise is undeniable. The new “Welcome Toronto” program shows that Drake’s commitment to Toronto and Canadian basketball is far from over. So can Drake be the influence that brings the game’s best player to Toronto? After all, Drake said, “I care about the city more than anything in the world.”

 

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