Toronto Forever

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The other day, my agent was asking me about the rest of my career. My next team, my next city, where I see myself. I’ve been in trade rumors for so long I think most people probably figure I’ve been having conversations like that all the time. But I would avoid those conversations. I felt like it’s something I can’t control, so let me just block out the noise and try to focus on playing at my highest level. Plus, we heard so many rumors and then they never became anything. So you almost start thinking it’s not real. 

But I guess at some point the Raptors pretty much made it known they were going in a different direction, and didn’t want to extend me, and a trade was definitely about to happen. All of a sudden it wasn’t rumors anymore. And I think my agent, you know, he’s doing his job, focusing me on the future, trying to remind me how there’s good things ahead. So he’s like, “P, though….. where do you see yourself?” And he’s going through a bunch of teams, places I’m always getting linked to and whatnot. I thought about it hard. I tried to picture myself playing on the different rosters, living in the different cities, even wearing the different colors. I’m going through them in my head. And I’ll be honest what I answered. I was like, “Where do I see myself? I mean…… Toronto.”

Toronto is just all I’ve known — and all I’ve wanted to know. I never asked for a trade. Maybe this sounds naive, but I felt I could be one of those dudes who spends his whole career on one team. That was my mentality even with the rumors. Like: I helped the Raptors win their first NBA title. So eventually I’ll help them win their second. I always took that as a given, you know? I took a lot of pride in being that guy who’s connecting the past and the future here, and keeping it all as one era. But I also realize it’s a business … and it’s their right to decide when it’s time for an era to end.

None of that changes what Toronto has meant to me, though, and what it will keep meaning. That’s the main thing I wanted to say to everyone: This is home. I put roots down for myself here — like, really, roots. I hope people reading this understand how big that was for me. Once I left Cameroon, I mostly bounced around boarding schools. Even at New Mexico State, I was only there for three years. So I never got that feeling of having a community around me during those parts of my life. And then most people know this, but my dad passed away while I was in college. We were very close, and it happened suddenly, and (because of my visa situation) I wasn’t even able to go to Cameroon for his funeral. So when I got to the league, there was a lot I was going through, and I had this feeling of wanting badly to belong somewhere.

Toronto made me feel like I belonged from day one. I loved the diversity — I’d go out and I’d see Cameroonians, Ghanaians, Mexicans, Koreans, Jamaicans, Europeans, just all types of people from all types of communities. It made me feel comfortable. I remember during my rookie year, me and my brother, we’d go to all these amazing African restaurants and eat the food we loved from back home. Or even just these African stores we could go to, where they’re selling stuff that usually you only can find in Cameroon. Like this specific brand of fried plantains we’d get bags of. Or there’s this Cameroonian meat my brother loves, soya, and he could find that pretty easy in Toronto. Maybe it doesn’t sound like it should be so important, snacks and things. But discovering all of that, and just getting to live in such a diverse place, it kind of let me take my guard down and be me. It was like, OK, if so many people somewhere are foreign … maybe you’re not feeling as foreign.

I think I got lucky with my basketball situation in Toronto as well. A lot of young guys, they land on a team that’s winning but it’s older and hard to fit in. Or they land on a team that’s younger and a good fit but it’s so much losing. With the Raptors, it’s like I got the best of both worlds. I got to be on a team that had these huge goals, and these great vets to look up to like Kyle and DeMar (and Pat and CJ and Jared and PJ and DeMarre, it’s a long list) — guys who did things the right way and who set the culture. But I also got to be around guys my age, who I could be hungry with and figure out the NBA with together.

Jakob, Fred, Norm, Delon….. man, those were good times. That was such a tight group. Like, we were some underdogs, but we weren’t just “scratching and clawing.” We were coming for heads!! We used to play “5 on 0” at the gym before practice most days. Just the five of us, running the offense against nobody, drive kick swing, drive kick swing, getting those reps in. We really did everything together: work out, hang out, go out, whatever. I think it was our second year, Jak and I went to Cancún during All Star??? He taught me how to shotgun a beer. I didn’t even know it’s a thing!!! It doesn’t make much sense. (I wasn’t good.)

The organization, they were also great about setting us up for success. They just cared about me — like, about Pascal the human. That was the standard. I mean, no joke: Raptors people took me to my driving test! I came into the league, never had a car in college, nothing, couldn’t drive. So they helped me out, then took me to the DMV. And I passed my first time. And I just look back on those things, those types of moments, and I’m so appreciative for how many people had my back. It’s a cool reminder of how far I’ve come in these eight years. How I really grew up here.

As far as the fans go, I want to say a few things. One: it’s so much love. Not just the love I feel for them, but that I’ve shared with them. The way that people in Canada have fallen in love with the Raptors while I’ve been here, it’s like it happened in just the right way, at the right time. When we were really ready for it — and needed it. So when we won, it’s not just the usual cliche to be like, “this championship belongs to everyone.” With 2019, we really felt that it’s everyone. Like it was this moment that changed people’s lives. Players, fans, all of us. Maybe that’s a lot for some basketball games, I don’t know. But if you were there then you get what I’m talking about.

David Dow/NBAE via Getty

There have been ups and downs, for sure. The hardest time of my career by far was the bubble — that’s not unique. Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t my best. And I really struggled with how we finished that season, because I loved our team. I thought we had the pieces to defend our title. So I felt like we let everyone down. And it was tough in those moments. I would get messages from trolls filled with these hurtful things, racist things. And being so isolated in the pandemic, it really weighed heavy on me. But our fans had a big part in helping me through it. Getting to play in front of our home crowds, and being reminded of the amazing community I have in Toronto, that helped me feel like myself again. I’ll always be grateful.

And I’ll always be a part of this community. That’s what I meant about putting roots down — it isn’t just, you know, “oh I have a house in Toronto.” It’s where I live. It’s where so many of the things I care about are, and where my brothers and sisters are, and where my PS43 Foundation is and will continue to be. Man…. I’m so excited to continue that work. This isn’t “thanks for the memories,” then I go someplace else. Basketball can take me all over the world. But like I said: This is home.

O.K. and then the last thing I want to say, it’s a quick story. So with some rookies, they come into the league, it’s a lot of buzz. But with me, when I got drafted, my agent went to the team store to buy a Siakam jersey…. and they didn’t even have it for sale!!! I definitely wasn’t on fans’ radars, you know?? And I’ll admit something to you now. I would do this thing as a rookie, during the anthems, where I’d look around and try to spot my jersey in the crowd. Obviously you can’t be doing that during a game, you need to be chill. But during the anthems you’re looking at the crowd anyway, so it’s less bad. It’s crazy, though: I’d never see any. I swear, every night I looked. Nothing. Then finally, this random night, I’m doing my usual scan — I SPOT ONE. RAPTORS 43. I’ll never forget that feeling. I’m going, YESSSS!!! on the inside. And I tried to keep my cool on the outside … but if you ever wondered, “Why’d Pascal look like he’s about to fist pump during the anthem one night as a rookie?” there you go.

Of course, I wasn’t satisfied. Had to have that feeling again. So pretty soon my brother Christian is on the lookout too. He’d go to games and keep a tally of Siakam jerseys for us. Not just during the anthem, but anywhere. Ticket line, concessions, bathroom, wherever. And I’m telling you this on one hand because it’s funny. But also because I’m so proud of my journey as a Raptor — and I feel like the support you guys gave me over those years kind of tells that story. How I went from playing “spot a 43” with Christian as a rookie and we’re celebrating if we saw even one, to my second season where we’re probably seeing one most games, to my third season where we’re seeing a handful, to my fourth season where we saw too many to keep up the count, to these last few seasons where my jersey is everywhere — where I got to be one of the faces of this city. Man, I almost can’t even believe that. Not bad for the lanky kid from Cameroon.

But now I’m realizing the sad part…. that it’s about to be my journey in reverse: probably a few less RAPTORS 43’s in the crowd at the next home game, then a few less at the game after that, then a few less, a few less, a few less. And that’s O.K. That’s how it goes. I’ll tell you what though: When I’m back next month as an opponent, and it’s the national anthems, and I’m standing there looking around? I do hope maybe I spot one. And I’ll still give it a YESSSS!!! on the inside. It’ll still mean a lot to me. Because it’s still a Toronto thing. 

And I’m Toronto forever.