Score another win for Aubrey "Drake" Graham. The rapper has signed an executive "global ambassadorship" deal with the Toronto Raptors—the NBA's sole active team based in Canada. The songbird/MC will be helping the team rebrand and build some excitement around a franchise that has experienced many highs and lows since its creation in 1993. Despite the Raptors' recent struggles, there was a time when the team had a string of playoff appearances (2000, 2001, 2002) and set league attendance records. Cab Drake can help them get that old thing back?
Drake's deal immediately draws comparisons to Jay Z. Though Jay's actual involvement in planning to rebrand and move the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn has oft been overstated, he did play an integral role in giving the Barclays Center a cool factor and attracting luxury buyers to the arena. He also is responsible for charming many Brooklyn residents into supporting an arena that would help drive up local rents and take existing gentrification efforts into overdrive. But in order to really help the Raptors, Drake will need to be more than a figurehead like Jigga. He'll have to work his contacts, be a spokesperson, assist with event planning and, most of all, sell the team as somewhere premiere players should want to play.
The Degrassi alum is already off to a fast start by being a visible and enthusiastic spokesperson for the Raptors. Last week, he spent a day on ESPN promoting the team—along with his new #1 album, Nothing Was The Same. It was clear from his interviews he's passionate about the team. Next, he'll be working to replace the Raptors' goofy logo (may I suggest ditching the dumb dinosaur?). According to the Toronto Star, the team plans to unveil its new direction when the 2015-2016 season begins. The logical next step would be for Drake to assist with the redesign of apparel and start rocking it during appearances and convincing fellow celebrities to wear the team's gear to help the team transcend its city and sport—though one hopes that this new gear won't be in line with some of the rapper's more questionable fashion choices.
One of the most challenging aspects of this partnership will come with leveraging Drake's ability to attract new talent to the Raptors. Ultimately, a team's cool factor is tied to its best player and it's record of wins v. losses. The Los Angeles Clippers, long the butt of NBA jokes, have become a sought after team with stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul at the helm. All it took was a couple of winning seasons to help ignite interest in the team and to start expanding its fan base. The Raptors haven't had a real superstar since Vince Carter led them to a few playoff appearances in the early 2000s. But when Carter's "Vinsanity" ruled, the Raptors broke attendance records. With the right draft moves and free agent signings, they could certainly do it again.
It's clear that athletes love Drake. Check any NBA player's timeline on any random day and you're likely to find them tweeting quotes from the rapper or listening to his music before games. Plus, upcoming stars in the league are around Drake's age—which could make him great recruitment bait, as many of them would love to sip moscato in the VIP with the self-described "light-skin Keith Sweat." With the league's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are hard-pressed to retain multiple high-priced players. That means it could be just a matter of time before the Raptors to catch a star like James Harden who was traded away from the Oklahoma Thunder and landed a max contract with the Houston Rockets. That's the kind of transformative player the Raptors need to fall into their hands to maximize their rebranding effort.
The best thing about Drake's partnership with the Raptors is the fact that it serves as a signal that times are changing. Sports leagues have expended energy distancing from hip hop out of fear that catering to so-called "urban" fan bases will alienate the audience-at-large. Even in cases where hip hop has helped sell merchandise—like NWA did with the Oakland Raiders back in late '80s—there still exists an uneasy relationship. But in 2016, when the NBA all-star game is held in Toronto, hip hop will be front and center. And if Drake approaches this project with the same calculated and unrelenting style he's shown his rap career, the Raptors may be thanking him later.