Rafer Alston

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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Comments (12)

  1. People often call me crazy when I say that Rafer is one of my fav players. They don’t get me, they say he was just a role player and shit. By reading this, I realize that I’m not alone and I think you really understand why I love Skip. He wasn’t the best on the court, he may have had some bad attitude and shit but he was a good guy and, most important, he enjoyed the game…uuuuummm and he still does, I’m pretty sure of that.
    I still watch my old “skip’s tape” (yup, I got the VHS) and I still listen to the soundtrack cuz shit was mad crazy!

    Sur ce, greetings from Québec City Miss Holly :)

    PEACE!

  2. Another Raptor who had talent but could not figure out the mental side of the game… worthy #27

  3. Count me as another devotee of Skip from way back. And he became a far, far better player than he was ever given credit for, at least before he went to Houston and Jeff Van Gundy (and a team that changed its rotation every 10 seconds) destroyed his confidence. And then he lost a step, and yeah by the end it was kinda ugly.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12TtpqXscKI

  4. what the hell is skip to my lou???

  5. Very nicely written.

  6. After Alvin Williams, Rafer is my favorite Raptors pg.

  7. One article a week is too little manggg.

  8. My basketball leanings couldn’t be more different. I abhorred style over substance and never was a big fan of the streetball scene. Every time I saw a kid practicing those streetball moves I just shook my head (still do). For me, the main goal of a PG should be to make his teammates better and win, not entertain the crowd. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I wasn’t a fan of Alston at all. To me, he was everything I disliked about basketball.

  9. Hey Tim, you ever ball on the black top? It’s a different game and comparing one to the other is missing the point, the beauty of what streetball is. I’m an NBA fan but when I go out on the asphalt I’m not taking charges or D-ing up like it’s a ‘chip on the line. But I am being careful not to bite because to give the other dude shine is probably worse than getting scored on. Streetball isn’t about the final score as much as it’s about the personal score.

    It’s different. Lean back and enjoy it because it takes an awful lot of talent.

  10. I actually thought Rafer was extremely restrained, even boring, as an NBA player. I don’t remember him trying to pull off too many streetball moves. I agree with Tim to some extent, at least as it pertains to the hardcore And1 stuff where guys are throwing the ball off of their opponents head and stuff like that, but there have been PGs who have been able to play with some pizazz and still make their teammates better (that goes back to at least Bob Cousy). It’s a fine line, making the exciting play that happens to be the effective play.

  11. to sum up my feelings it’s like comparing WWE to MMA. One is an act and the other is a blood sport. NBA is the bloodsport despite what Kings fans may have to say about certain calls 9 or 10 years ago.

  12. Minks,

    I’ve balled plenty on the blacktop. So much that my knees are now paying for it. One of my best memories was when a few of us “old school” players came in and completely destroyed a team of And1 type players the crowd were heavily for. The other team were getting so pissed when we didn’t fall for all their moves and just played good defense.

    And I like to win. I couldn’t care less about a personal score.

    I have nothing against a little flash, as long as it’s backed up with substance. One of my favourite players of all time was Isiah Thomas. And he’s got two rings.

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