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Drake passions heat up with Raptors' run as crucial game approaches
Toronto Raptors forward Norman Powell (24) and Raptors centre Serge Ibaka (9) celebrate with Drake, centre, while playing giants the Milwaukee Bucks during second half NBA Eastern Conference finals basketball action in Toronto on Tuesday,May 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, May 25, 2019 3:16PM EDT
TORONTO -- By now, Drake's relentless grandstanding on behalf of his beloved Toronto Raptors is to be expected.
And so too, then, is the wrath of Milwaukee Bucks' fans now excoriating the Canadian rapper for a series of escalating taunts.
The off-court beef has been equal parts invigorating and infuriating for fans of both teams, with Drake's gleeful jeers only goading more cross-border smack-talk on the eve of Saturday's pivotal Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference final at Scotiabank Arena.
The mantle south of the border was taken up Thursday night by Mallory Edens, the daughter of Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens, who trolled the 6 God by sitting courtside at Game 5 in a shirt featuring Drake nemesis Pusha T.
Drake clapped back on Instagram by changing his profile avatar to one of Mallory Edens. Clicking on the photo leads to multiple images and video clips that include cheering Raptors fans in the Scotiabank Arena's tailgate zone, Jurassic Park, as they emerged victorious Thursday to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"All is fair in war and war and trust me, I'll still get you tickets to ovo fest," reads one card, referring to Drake's star-studded summer music festival.
Another quote is overlaid on a photo of what appears to be a recording studio with a large window that looks onto the CN Tower: "Meet me in Jurassic Park at 8:30 whole city should be out like the sun... history is upon us."
Several Bucks fans, meanwhile, showed up in "F--k Drake" T-shirts at Thursday's game in Milwaukee.
Drake wasn't there to witness this in person.
Instead, the Raptors' global ambassador celebrated with his entourage amid jubilant Toronto fans at Jurassic Park, pacing on an adjacent stage as critical possessions came and went, and beaming as the buzzer confirmed another win for Canada's lone NBA team.
When it comes to rallying and riling the fans, Drake has proven his worth time and again, says the marketing director of the U.S.-based athlete marketing platform opendorse.
"Drake's in a league of his own right now," Sam Weber said Friday when reached by phone in Chicago.
"Drake has an uncanny ability to inject himself in the conversation whenever there's a chance for him to be relevant and he's legitimately one of the world's best marketers. He's always there, he's always relevant."
Weber sees few downsides to such outlandish tactics, either for the team or Drake's own brand. However, some Toronto fans may be tired of their team cast as the "Toronto Drakes," he admits.
"That said, I think any fan wants attention to be on their franchise," said Weber.
"You want your franchise to be covered in the news and media and usually that's a sign you're successful. It's also a sign you're a marketable franchise."
The Drake sideshow has even inspired one bookie to take bets on the possible shenanigans that could unfold at Saturday's game.
SportsBetting.ag posted a number of prop bets Friday that included whether Drake touches Raptors head coach Nick Nurse like he did in Game 4 and whether Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will speak to Drake.
Other wagers on offer include: Will Drake step onto the court? Will the NBA publicly warn Drake regarding his on-court behaviour? Will Drake be removed from Game 6 by security?
Such shots are all in good fun, says Weber, who detects no out-of-bounds jabs despite the sometimes heated exchanges.
"It reaches more fans that way so it's good for the sport," he said.
Drake's ties to the team go well beyond the run-of-the mill superfan.
His powerful OVO brand is woven deeply into the team -- literally, when you consider those Drake-inspired uniforms they've donned for the series, not to mention the team's practice facility, recently renamed the OVO Athletic Centre.
But while Drake's ardent fandom makes for juicy headlines and reliably animated reaction shots for TV cameras, it has raised questions about reasonable courtside decorum, which has included jabs at rival coaches, referees and players alike.
Drake's antics have clearly hit a nerve.
Earlier in the series, a Milwaukee radio station put a temporary ban on Drake tunes. The hosts at 103.7 KISS-FM said they hoped their "break from Drake" would help the Bucks squash the Raptors.
Earlier in the series, Drake weathered hometown wariness, too, for a supposed curse when many superstitious sports fans pointed out that past teams and athletes he has supported often lose.