The Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the Raptorblog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans. We’ll count down a new Raptor every Wednesday on this blog.
Rafer Alston’s Raptors résumé:
- First player to appear on SLAM’s Streetball issue
- Raptors gave “Skip 2 My Lou” his first legit NBA chance
- In return, he gave Sam Mitchell plenty of headaches
- Joins Mo Pete on the list of former Raptors to have been caught on camera giving opponents a “love slap”
Something that most people don’t realize about me is that I never was a Raptors fan. Nope. Never. I didn’t grow up in Toronto and the Raptors were not the team I fell in love with when I was growing up. I was born in Nova Scotia and grew up in a town of 600 people where basketball was the second-last thing on the list of popular things, ranking only slightly higher than hip hop. As someone who lives for both, I was always the odd one out. If it wasn’t for Kobe Bryant and SLAM magazine, I definitely wouldn’t be here writing this today.
A small town girl with hoop dreams, basketball was my religion, hip hop my sermons, and SLAM my bible. It’s because of SLAM that I feel an extra special attachment to Rafer Alston. While you all likely know Rafer as the flashy and frustrating point guard that came to the Raptors after chilling on the bench with the Milwaukee Bucks and while he will always think of Toronto as the first franchise that truly gave him his first shot in the league, I think of Rafer not as Rafer at all.
Rafer will always be “Skip 2 My Lou” to me.
SLAM Magazine’s first ever streetball issue featured Rafer Alston, then known as Skip 2 My Lou. It was a grainy VHS tape filled with Alston’s signature handles that eventually was handed over to someone at And-1 and it was that tape that is partially responsible for the And-1 Mixtape tour as we know it.
That’s the Rafer I know. And loved. Loved so much, in fact. I loved him because he was streetball and that was something new and exciting and so foreign to me. If basketball isn’t common in an all-white town in Nova Scotia, streetball wasn’t even an idea that had been introduced to me until SLAM came along. I devoured that issue just as I did the And-1 mixtapes and when Rafer came to Toronto, I was tuned in.
I might not have been a huge Raptors fan, but I pulled for Canada’s team whenever they were not playing the Lakers. I wanted Rafer to work out desperately and through all of the ups and downs during his tenure with the Raptors I defended him. To a fault. Shocking, right? After he left the Raptors for the Heat and became a legit piece of their playoff run, I was bitter. I wanted him to be with the Raptors so I could continue to watch the streetball kid make the successful transition to the NBA. When he came back to the team in 2004, I was ready for him to blow up. That is, I was ready until it became clear that Rafer was not. At least not in Toronto.
For all of the excitement that he brought to the basketball court, there were eccentricities lurking in the backroom. There was the story of dropping free weights on a sleeping teammate that had followed him from his college days, the “fight” that almost went down with Sam Mitchell (something that comes up every so often when writers are waiting to be let into practice), the attitude issues, I don’t think any of them compared to the biggest struggle Rafer had to deal with. The struggle to conform to a quieter game where flash is nothing without substance — when flash had been his sustenance for so long — didn’t get any easier with time.
Traded from Toronto to Houston, Rafer excelled and it looked like the rumors of his attitude issues had been largely exaggerated by the Raptors. That is, until things bottomed out again and he was bounced from Houston to Orlando and then onto New Jersey in a draft day trade in 2009 before heading back to Miami once more. From there, Rafer’s career quietly flamed out. The streetballer with enough charisma and charm to keep your attention after his handles had captured it had run out of chances. It’s still bittersweet to talk about today.
While he wasn’t particularly successful in Toronto, he was certainly memorable. As one of the biggest faces of streetball in the NBA, Rafer will always have a special place in NBA history and in Raptors lore. Not all legacies are golden. After making it for 11 years in the league — a success by anyone’s standards — he left the league as quietly as he had entered. Rafer made it to the grandest stage only to discover that his game was meant to shine on the streets. His legend forever changed by his decision to go pro, one wonders what would have been had the Raptors not given him that chance.
They did, though. And for that, for the crossovers and the fakes, the attitude and the bold bravado and the childish smile to show he was still having fun, Rafer Alston is 27th on the Ultimate Raptors Rankings.
P.S. Where is the brash point guard now? Coaching and serving as the high school athletic director at Christian Life Center in Texas. Good for him.
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