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.
Damon Stoudamire’s Raptors résumé:
- First draft pick in Raptors history (seventh overall, 1995 draft)
- One of two Raptors to win Rookie of the Year Award
- First in franchise history in assists per game (8.8), minimum 200 games played
While he’s not the most famous or most memorable player to wear a Toronto Raptors uniform, Damon Stoudamire has to go down as Toronto’s most notable NBA draft pick because of the way he overcame the doubts of confounded fans who booed his announcement as the franchise’s very first draft pick. With more imposing players like Ed O’Bannon and Kurt Thomas still on the board, many Raptors fans were outraged that then-team-President Isiah Thomas passed on those prospects for the five-foot-10 point guard from the University of Arizona.
Stoudamire did not waste any time before showing Raptors fans that he had the potential to be a solid building piece for the newly-birthed franchise. In the Raptors’ first regular season game, Stoudamire had a double-double in leading the team to victory over the New Jersey Nets — O’Bannon finished with four points and a rebound for the Nets, foreshadowing his eventual bust status. While the Raptors lost their next game, Stoudamire emerged as beacon of hope with a 26-point, 11-assist performance. He later identified that Pacers game as the moment he knew he belonged in the NBA: “They’re a team that goes to the playoffs every year and they have great players and, you know, I had a great game against them. That was when I knew I could be something special.”
He notched his third straight double-double against a Chicago Bulls lineup that went on to win an NBA-record 72 games, and Stoudemire finished his rookie season with a total of 37 double-double performances on the way to averaging 19 points and 9.3 assists per game and winning the Rookie of the Year Award. It was clear that his diminutive stature didn’t take away from the effectiveness of his game because of his tremendious speed, court vision, shooting and stamina. It’s worth noting that his rookie average of 40.9 minutes per game are the seventh-highest MPG average for rookies in NBA history — the six players ahead of him (Wilt Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy and Jerry Lucas) all ended up in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
When I think back on those heady days of the Raptors’ birth year, the signature play that stands out is Stoudamire regularly streaking down the court on a fast break before he stopped on a dime at the top of the three-point line to bury a jumper. His combination of blazing speed and the ability to put on the brakes for a deadly trey seemed unparalleled at the time, and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone quite as effective at that move since then.
If his Rookie of the Year Award didn’t sufficiently signify his star status, his 1996 Nike commercial broadened his recognition as a player potentially destined for greatness. Yeah, the ad seems extremely cheesy now, but this was a big deal for Raptors fans at the time.
As with all of the stars in this franchise’s history, the good times were not meant to last. Things went sour midway through his third season when he reportedly not only demanded a trade, but squashed potential multi-team trades with the Magic and Kings when he threatened to not extend his rookie contracts with those teams because Anfernee Hardaway would have left the Magic in the first trade and Mitch Richmond would have departed from the Kings in the latter deal. With the resulting lack of leverage, the Raptors had to settle on trading Stoudamire with Walt Williams and Carlos Rogers to the Trail Blazers for Kenny Anderson, Alvin Williams, Gary Trent and a handful of draft picks that never panned out.
Since Stoudamire’s career took a significant downturn in his post-Raptors years, there has been speculation that he regretted ever forcing that trade. In actuality, he insisted it wasn’t the trade he regretted but more the way he conducted himself:
“The whole regret that I have is not necessarily what was or what wasn’t The regret that I have was moreso the immaturity of the way the whole thing happened. I think everybody, both sides included, it was just an immature situation and I’m willing and I accept my responsibility in that… The emotions were so high at the time and I wanted to get to a winner so bad and have a chance to win. Going to Portland with all the young players they had, I just felt like that was a good fit for me.”
Fourteen years after the messy breakup, no real bitterness towards Stoudamire remains among Raptors faithful. What continues to linger in our memories is the pride we felt at how, for two glorious seasons, our upstart expansion squad boasted one of the most exciting young players in the NBA.