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Opinion | Siakam event a reminder of the important connection athletes can make with kids

It’s been a couple of summers since I’ve been able to get out anywhere in the city to see a Raptor do his off-season stuff with his or the team’s charitable foundations due to the pandemic that basically ruined two years and kept everyone away.

But it was great for me yesterday to get to Regent Park and the Bill Graham Youth Centre to watch Pascal Siakam absolutely thrill a crowd of young girls with his PS43 Foundation/Penny Appeal Canada program that gave 150 laptops to girls 12 to 14 as part of the Coding for Champions initiative.

It really was quite something and something I haven’t been able to experience first hand for the last two years.

Because we see these athletes interact with fans mostly at games or some gala events, we sometimes lose sight of the connection they can make with kids who may never, ever get a chance to sit in the arena and watch them play or attend some hoity-toity affair.

It’s something else.

I watched a hundred or so of the kids march up the desk part in awe, part triumphantly to get laptops that may very well change their lives from a star they’ve only seen on TV.

It was cool and it was important and provided a reminder of the good these guys can do simply by showing up.

I got a chance to chat with a couple of the all-time greats, my old pal Ralph Lean, the PS43 chair who was the very first chairman of the very first Raptors Foundation charged by the provincial government of the day with raising $5 million as part of the original expansion agreement to replace lost Pro Line money, and to Marci Ien, a tireless MP whose work with her constituents and for causes of equality is truly important.

(Plus, Ralph spied me and invited me to chat in the an air conditioned bus instead of 30C heat so that was damn nice of him)

Their tales – about kids who now have their own computer after sharing one, at best, with entire family; about kids who might stick with technology thanks to the program at time when too many young girls drop the pursuit in their early teen years – hammered home what tangible benefits that accrue from events like yesterdays.

Sometimes, some of us tend to shrug off things like players charitable foundations or their association with important groups like Penny Appeal Canada as some performative move just to enhance their reputations or maybe hide some their money.

But getting a chance to see first hand what happens, the smiles on the faces of the kids, the pride their parents showed standing off to the side watching, the giggles they shared with each other before and after they met Siakam was cool.

I’ve been around Fred VanVleet when he did things with his foundation, I watched Kyle Lowry’s Christmas event one year at a toy story, as Ralph reminded me, we both watched an outdoor basketball court dedication with Vince Carter a hundred years ago that was like the Beatles had arrived somewhere.

I’m glad I got the chance to experience yesterday’s event with Siakam, even in a very minor, very secondary manner.

No, having spoken with Bobby Webster along with the group yesterday, I have no idea who the Raptors will draft, what kind of player they’d like to draft and that’s the least surprising thing in the world.

I put some of the more interesting stuff in the bottom of the Siakam story yesterday but let’s just say you should all go into tomorrow night with open minds because there’s a large, large, large group of possibilities.

All right, there is basically nothing in the inbox for Ye Olde Mailbab and you all need to rectify that right away.

Click on [email protected] today and send something in, please.

There’s no question the Leafs season ended disappointingly with yet another first-round playoff elimination, which is becoming something of a tradition around these parts over the last 20 years or so.

But I also don’t think it can be denied that the season they provided their fans was top notch, especially given what transpired at the awards show last night.

That the team was able to trot out the player judged to be the best in the league over the course of the season by both his peers and the independent voters would make me think the season that’s about to finish any day soon was tremendous entertainment and something fans might not see again for a very long time.

I hope in hindsight they appreciated it.

Sure, a long playoff run is dramatic and exciting and fun but Leaf fans have just got to see the best player in the league perform on a nightly basis and that’s equally impressive, I’d say.

A rant, for something new.

Too much of yesterday was spent city driving, which is not something I usually do but circumstances and the locations I had to be at.

Man, you people behind the wheels are a freaking menace.

Cut off repeatedly, cars weaving into bike lanes, cars jammed in the middle of intersections at lights where pedestrians were trying to cross.

It’s insane and dangerous and thank goodness I don’t have to do very often because I’d snap, I am sure.

I’ve always felt that bike lanes were a terrific idea and that car operators should respect them like they respect other rules of the road.

But now having been in the heart of Toronto behind the wheel of a car at 5 p.m. or so, I would be all in favour of a total ban of cars on some city streets to create safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists because drivers are crazy bad.


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