Fast. Ferocious. Lethal. 

These are some of the traits of a mamba and traits attributed to the late, great Kobe Bryant. But if you add some Canadian maple to the mix, you create something new and unique. His name is RJ Barrett. 

Barrett embraced his “Maple Mamba” identity in his fourth game with the Toronto Raptors against the Golden State Warriors on the first Sunday of 2024. With his dominant display of 37 points, six assists, and six rebounds, he spearheaded the Raptors to a huge win, showcasing his sky-high potential. 

Maple origins 

Barrett grew up in Mississauga with a family who bestowed upon him his athletic gifts. His father, Rowan Barrett, was a former Canadian basketball player who represented Canada at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. His mother, Kesha Duhaney, was a National Collegiate Athletic Association athlete at St. John’s University. 

As a 14-year-old, Barrett participated in the Team Ontario U15 basketball team, with a commanding performance against Québec, scoring 37 points and leading Team Ontario to victory and their seventh consecutive Canadian National Championship title in 2014.

He committed to Duke University in 2017, where he received the nickname “the Maple Mamba,” paying homage to his Canadian roots and his competitive “Kobe mentality” on the court. In 2018, Barrett had a notable return to Toronto, scoring 35 points and leading Duke to an exhibition win against the U of T Varsity Blues. A year later, he was selected third overall by the New York Knicks in the 2019 NBA Draft. 

The prodigal son returns 

Before the turn of the new year, the stars aligned to bring the Canadian native home. 

On December 30, a trade was completed that sent OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks, in exchange for Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a 2024 second-round pick to the Toronto Raptors. 

The trade shocked Barrett. In an interview with Andscape’s Marc J. Spears, he spoke on his thoughts when he received the news from his agent. “I had no clue. I just got the call when it happened. I was like, ‘What is going on?’” Barrett said. “I was so confused. I didn’t see it coming. When he told me the Raptors, I was like, ‘Okay, at least I’m coming home.’” 

When he arrived in Toronto, Barrett met with teammate Immanuel Quickley to film the Raptors show programming “Open Gym.” He spoke about his love and appreciation for Toronto’s food culture. 

“You gotta grab me some Osmow’s… it’s Mediterranean food, it’s fire. You get some rice and chicken, got a lot of garlic sauce! Ouuu,” Barrett exclaimed. As the two Raptors players were being driven around downtown Toronto, they approached a local Tim Hortons shop, stirring more conversation. “Get some Timbits, some honey-glazed timbits,” Barrett said before promptly explaining what Timbits are to a confused Quickley. 

His great appetite for Canadian household restaurants further transcends to a greater appetite for scoring points in games. Barrett’s trade to Toronto also provides the platform for basketball expansion in Canada. 

With a record number of 26 Canadian players in the NBA, including NBA champion Jamal Murray and All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Barrett has the opportunity to shine brightly as not only a Canadian but as “the Canadian on Canada’s team.” He’ll be able to inspire the next generation of Canadian players not just from a digital screen, but in the same backyard, providing a physical connection to reach the hearts of every NBA dreamer in Canada. 

The Raptors have a gem in their hands, and with Barrett’s innate drive to compete on the court, the scene is set for the talented 23-year-old to ascend to greatness.