TORONTO (AP) — The 2016 NBA All-Star game is coming to Toronto, and the Raptors are looking to one of the music industry’s biggest stars to help revamp the franchise in time for the festivities.
NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver made the announcement Monday, marking the first time Toronto will hold the league’s annual showcase.
Canadian rap star Drake and Mayor Rob Ford were among those at the news conference. The Raptors also announced that Drake will be their “global ambassador” and have a voice in the team’s rebranding.
Tim Lieweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said the team is in the process of planning a major face-lift that will include a new look and new colors. Drake will be heavily involved in the effort, which is expected to take the next two seasons.
“I’m really out here with the people. I’m in touch with what they want to see,” Drake said. “I really just want excitement for this team. I want us to be one of the biggest teams in the league.”
Lieweke called this the beginning of a “new age” for the Raptors.
“This is a team and this is a sport that is going to rock this city going forward,” he said. “Good days are coming and we couldn’t be more excited.”
But the Raptors have a long way to go on the court. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008.
“We have now a responsibility to grow our basketball team so that it meets the momentum of the All-Star game,” new general manager Masai Ujiri said. “We promise you in Toronto that we’re going to bring the best basketball.”
Silver is optimistic the Raptors will turn things around.
“By the time we come here for the All-Star game there will be a winning tradition in Toronto,” he promised.
The NBA All-Star game will be held in New Orleans in 2014 and in New York in 2015. The NHL played its All-Star game in Toronto in 2000. The Toronto Blue Jays hosted baseball’s showcase in 1991.
Lieweke estimated that an NBA All-Star game usually generates about $100 million for the host city. But he predicted Toronto will eclipse that, saying he and Drake have been discussing making the festivities about more than basketball and music.
“We’re already talking about fashion, we’re talking about films, we’re talking about food, we’re talking about all the things … that are the trademark of this great city,” Lieweke said. “We certainly see it as an opportunity to let everyone see all the phenomenal parts of Toronto.”