Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings

I spent quite a few words on the booing of Andrea Bargnani in my “Thoughts On the Game” post on Friday night, but with Kyle Lowry tweeting in support of Bargnani and against the booing from the home crowd, I feel somewhat obliged to address the issue again in its entirety.

To start, I’ll point out that I don’t fault Lowry at all. In fact, I like that Lowry is taking on a leadership role for this Raptors team and that he’s sticking up for his teammate. As much as I understand and can relate to the fan angst over Bargnani, seeing Lowry backing his teammate in a public setting like twitter, even when it’s the obviously unpopular thing to do, is great.

Now as for the booing, as I’ve pointed out a number of times recently, I don’t support booing a player on the home team when he simply enters the game, no matter how bad his season or career has been. I’m fine with refusing to applaud or cheer for the player in question when his name is announced, but again, save the booing for once he’s actually in the game and “earning” the boos, so to speak.

And that brings me to the real point of this post, that other than the booing of his entrance, Raptors fans have every reason to jeer Andrea Bargnani when he puts forth the effort, or rather the lack of effort we’ve seen from him. We’re not talking about Rafael Araujo here, who simply wasn’t good enough and couldn’t do anything about it. We’re talking about an insanely talented player who has shown the ability to be a big-time player in the NBA when he simply feels like it, but who lacks the desire to ever prove it consistently. And no, Bargnani’s magical 13-game stretch to start last season doesn’t count as “consistently,” as encouraging as his performance in that stretch was.

Too many times in his seven-year career, Bargnani has cost the Raptors a chance at a rebound, a loose ball or a defensive stop because he looks incapable of expending too much energy, unwilling to get dirty or get on the floor and sometimes embarrassingly enough, incapable of extending his arms or even bending his knees past halfway. Along the way, all of that indifference has translated to plenty of cost games as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so blinded by my disappointment in Bargnani to naively believe that he is the be all and end all behind the Raptors’ struggles over the years, but it would be equally naive to dismiss the large role Andrea and his careless attitude has played in that futility.

When a player of Bargnani’s skillset and potential is held scoreless and registers a feeble two rebounds, one steal and one block in 35 minutes of action over two games, which is exactly what he’s done over Toronto’s last two home contests, while demonstrating the very lack of hustle and heart that has repulsed Raptors fans over his career, what in God’s name do you expect the paying customer to do? Again, I’m not advocating booing a home team player because of two bad games or a few “off” nights, but when those no-shows are a result of a lack of effort and the player in question has been knocked for said lack of effort and intensity his entire career, you better believe that the crowd has the right to voice their displeasure.

And if you think this perception of Bargnani is merely something that Raptors fans and media members have concocted foolishly in their own mind, I assure you, anyone who watches the big Italian play is left thinking along the same lines. Take it away, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, who tweeted his thoughts on Bargnani’s performance Friday night…

It’s especially ironic to hear the organization ask for fans to be patient and a little less harsh on Bargnani when Andrea’s famed caliper test results – the “off the charts” results which showed “Bargnani is virtually oblivious to what others think of him” – surely played a part in his No. 1 overall selection in the 2006 Draft. So what happened to that? Il Mago is suddenly vulnerable to fans’ and outsiders’ opinions after seven years?

Andrea Bargnani’s no slouch of a basketball talent. He’s not “soft,” as most pundits lazily label him because of his lack of rebounding and perceived lack of defence. He’s actually a lot tougher than fans give him credit for and doesn’t mind mixing it up with any opposing big who chooses to talk trash or tries to push him around. He’s also a near elite one-on-one post defender (though Bargnani’s lack of understanding of help-defence and his pathetic rebounding effort will always limit him from ever being a true defensive presence). Bargnani’s problem has nothing to do with talent or toughness, at least not physically. It has to do with pure desire, and that’s unforgivable to the average hard working fan for a guy making eight figures to play basketball.

If you ask me, fans at the Air Canada Centre should remain silent among Bargnani’s introduction to a game and should treat his entrance with the same indifference that Andrea has treated his basketball career with for the majority of the last seven years. Give him a chance to prove himself on a nightly basis since you can never be sure which Andrea will show up from possession to possession, let alone from game to game. If good Bargnani shows up, applaud and cheer the effort. But if bad Bargnani takes the floor on that particular night, as has been the case far too often this season, boo and jeer the lack of effort loudly enough that the organization as a whole finally comes to realize that this city and this fanbase won’t accept loafters.

That’s not the mark of a mean, harsh or disloyal fanbase. It’s the honest reaction of a very loyal, very patient yet very passionate fanbase to a player who hasn’t done nearly enough to earn the benefit of the doubt.