On Monday morning, the Toronto Raptors announced that they will host the 2016 NBA All-Star Game. Usually that would be one of the biggest basketball stories of the year for this hockey-loving city.
But there was another storyline playing out on Monday, involving the city's biggest international superstar. In takes a lot of buzz, talent and power to hijack the attention from a stage that included Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Mayor Rob Ford. Drake brought all of that, plus a healthy dose of substance as he made his newly formed partnership with the franchise official in front of an overwhelmingly packed Air Canada Centre conference room at exactly 10:59 on Monday morning.
Holding the title of Toronto Raptors' global ambassador, Drake will assist the team as it undergoes an image makeover spearheaded by president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Tim Leiweke.
While sports writers had their doubts prior to the morning's announcements - there were more than a couple bemused smiles from people who weren't familiar with Drake outside of his role as Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi or a vague notion of his superstardom - it didn't take long for the rapper to win them over. Dressing the part in a smart, perfectly tailored blue suit and smoking slippers, Drake, and specifically, his passion and love for the city, ended up being centre stage, as nearly every question was directed toward him.
"I'm extremely passionate about two things: my city and my family," he said. "I travel the world performing and everywhere I go, I preach the gospel that is Toronto. I love this city with all my heart and I just want to let you know that I'm extremely excited to finally be a part of a team that I grew up as a fan of, a die hard fan of, of course, I'm sure, like everybody else from the city."
The new partnership will see Drake working with the team to help develop and create a rebranding strategy complete with clothing line, and providing input on key decision-making surrounding the image of the team moving forward.
In short, the Raptors look to Drake to see if they can't recreate in the sports world some of the magic he has steadily been creating in music over the past five years.
Leiweke, coming to Toronto from Los Angeles and the glitz of Hollywood, has been sufficiently impressed with the 26-year-old entertainer. (Many comparisons have been made to Jay Z and his involvement with the New Jersey Nets. It's worth remembering that that New York mogul is 43.)
"I came from music [originally]," Leiweke said. "At the end of the day I'm a big fan of Drake...We have a lot of mutual friends and they rave about this guy. His character, his quality, his love of this city. The one thing about Drake is, he's genuine...he wants us to get great."
Fresh off the release of his third studio album, Nothing Was The Same, Drake has been everywhere - talk-show circuit, magazine covers. What he wants people to remember now is that he's been with the Raptors since childhood. He mentioned that he's a season-ticket holder, and will try and attend as many games as possible.
The Raptors have not been a "cool" organization since the Vince Carter heyday of the early aughts. What Drake lends to the franchise is legitimacy and cachet. While he expertly dodged questions about whether or not he'd have a role in enticing players to come to his city, his love for the place has no-doubt changed the opinions of many players who have little or no exposure to Canada before they're drafted into the league.
"A lot of people don't understand that this is like a thriving city," he said. "It's almost like [all of] your favourite cities in one without the complications that come with those other cities - which I won't mention. Last night I was having a phone conversation with an artist whose talent I respect immensely, and she came here and performed for the first time the other day, and we were talking on the phone, and she was like, ‘I get it. I get why you love it. It was such a rare feeling when I stepped onto the stage, they made me feel like a star.'
"You know, we come from a city of love," Drake added. "We're grateful for a lot of the opportunities and things that we get. That's what I encourage people to come see."
The artist was Los Angeles' Jhené Aiko, featured on Nothing Was The Same's song From Time. Aiko was in town to perform at Manifesto's Yonge-Dundas Square showcase.
Judging by his annual OVO Fest and the collection of performers (Kanye West) and athletes (Brandon Jennings) who come through the city thanks to the artist each summer, it isn't hard to understand why Leiweke believes in the gospel of Drake.
A quick glance at the past five years - five playoff-less seasons for the Raptors, five years from entering the music scene to standing atop of it for Drake - makes it easy to see why the franchise wants the city's most valuable player on its side.
"If all things are equal and we've got Drake sitting on our side of the table, we win."