How Drake Helped the Toronto Raptors Make the NBA Finals

The rapper's very own basketball diaries go back to 2009.

Rapper Drake attends the game between
John Salangsang/Invision/AP/REX/

There’s arguably no bigger celebrity hoops fan right now than the rapper Aubrey Drake Graham, whose beloved Toronto Raptors square off with the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors tonight in Toronto, for the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Known for his courtside seat near the scorer’s table, Drake has developed a reputation for his enthusiastic displays and interactions with key players, such as this team-approved stare-down of Warriors star Kevin Durant.

But Drake is more than a fan; he’s been the team’s official “global ambassador” since 2013, when he and his brand OVO (October’s Very Own) announced a partnership with the Raptors. He told reporters at the time, “It’s not just something for the sake of all the cameras,” and he’s proven that.

He’s helped inspire a set of alternate team jerseys featuring his brand’s black/gold blend, offered narration of team ads, keyed a special “Drake Night” each season for several years (even receiving this sharp coat with Vince Carter jersey lining in 2015) and may even have his own stall in the Toronto locker room. Last year he and the Raptors pledged $3 million (Canadian) to refurbish community basketball courts and another $2 million to Canada Basketball.

The team hadn’t made the playoffs in five years when the partnership began. They’ve made it every year since. In fact, in the six years following, the team’s value has more than doubled according to Forbes. In March, perhaps in appreciation of luck he’s brought, the Raptors renamed their practice arena the OVO Athletic Center, and Drake’s OVO owl logo now adorns the facility. This month they reached the NBA Finals for the first time.

The fascination has long bled into Drake’s music, whether he’s comparing himself and Los Angeles Clipper bench scorer Lou Williams on “6 Man” or paying homage to Warriors star Steph Curry on tracks like “Still Here” (“Hidden like that 30 on my jersey, man I’m gifted”) and “Summer Sixteen,” where he sings about “Golden State running practice at my house,” which Curry explained to ESPN was a reference to a pickup game he played at Drake’s very own home.

Drake even has a tattoo with Curry’s number 30 and the line “gifted” under it, next to another of Durant’s number 35 with the word “snipe” under it, referencing to Durant’s one-time media handle and nickname, Easy Money Sniper. (Worth noting: in the photo, he’s wearing a replica of LeBron James’ high school jersey, another basketball superstar Drake considers a bud.) There’s even video from 2015 of Curry, his wife Ayesha, and Drake catching a late night bite at an In-N-Out Burger.

With his home team Raptors ready to challenge his idols’ Warriors, we thought it an appropriate time to catalog and timeline some of the twists and turns of Drake’s NBA fandom.

Drake’s Basketball Diaries: A Timeline

September 2009: Drake teams with Lil Wayne, Kanye West and Eminem record the track, “Forever,” for the LeBron James documentary, “More Than A Game.”

February 2010: Drake is assistant coach to Magic Johnson at the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, helping a squad that featured Common, Michael Rappaport, Mark Cuban, and Terrence J(enkins). During the weekend Drake chair dances with LeBron James while judging an amateur dunk contest.

March 2010: Drake hugs then-Kentucky (now on the Warriors) star center DeMarcus Cousins during an entire, nearly two-minute post-game interview following Wildcats’ victory over Wake Forest.

August 2010: During an interview with ESPN, Drake says James is “like a brother” and that’s he’s heard James rap and that his “hip-hop knowledge and capabilities are up there.” Says James and Houston’s Chris Paul “are two people that constantly check on me, constantly make sure I’m good.”

Sept 22, 2013: Drake attends Kevin Durant’s birthday party at Avenue in New York City along with Jay-Z and Kanye.

Sept, 29, 2013: Tim Lieweke CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Raptors, announces Drake’s new role as “global ambassador,” a role that developed out of an impromptu chat with Lieweke about things Drake thought could be improved in the building. At the presser he called it, “one of the best days of my life.”

February 2014: Drake becomes a prop during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game dunk contest, as Raptors wing Terrence Ross completed one of his dunks by grabbing the ball out of Drizzy’s hands, passing it through his legs before windmilling it through the bucket.

April 2014: Drake calls out Jay-Z for missing the playoff matchup between the Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets, which Jay-Z had a small ownership stake in at the time. During the broadcast he suggest Hova’s “somewhere eating a fondue plate.” Meanwhile, Drake gets roasted on social for using a lint roller with undignified passion in the heat of the game.

June 2014: Drake attends the NBA Finals and watches the San Antonio Spurs fall to LeBron James’ Miami Heat in the series finale at American Airlines Arena. However a security guard won’t let him into the Miami locker room saying it’s only for media. “I am media,” Drake replied, but was still got turned away. Still he got a picture with LeBron James later.

November 2014: During his OVO Fest in Toronto, Drake gives a shout-out to Kevin Durant, who will become a free agent at the end of the season, and was attending the show. Drake told the audience to cheer so Durant could see what it’d be like if he came to the Raptors. Shortly thereafter the NBA fines the Raptors $25,000 but offers to waive the fine if they drop Drake. Toronto simply pays the penalty.

February 2016: Drake coaches the 2016 Celebrity All-Star Team at All-Star Weekend in Toronto, leading such fellow Canucks as Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, actors Tom Cavanaugh, Stephan James and Kris Wu. Later during the broadcast, Drake raps over Shaquille O’Neal’s beatboxing.

April 2016: Drake trolls Paul George and the Indiana Pacers after they go down to the Raptors with a tear-laden Instagram post.

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@raptors 👌🏽

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June 2016: Drake loses $60,000 bet with French Montana that the Golden State Warriors, and his new bestie Steph Curry, will beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and his old BFF LeBron James in the NBA Finals.

November 2016: Drake wears a T-shirt bearing announcer Doris Burke’s likeness to “Drake Night” and during an interview with an ESPN reporter, says he’d love to have dinner with her. The game that night features Durant’s new team, the Golden State Warriors. Durant is bumped by Drake during a postgame interview, glares at him and tells the reporter, “I don’t give a damn about Drake Night.”

April 2018: During the playoff series with the Washington Wizards, Drake tells Wizards wing Kelly Oubre Jr. that he’s a bum as he runs by. Afterwards, Oubre called Drake his guy. “We pretty much run the streets of L.A. together, on the A-list tip, not in the hood way,” Oubre said.

May 2018: Drake gets into an on-court battle of words with Cleveland Cavalier’s beefy bench-riding center Kendrick Perkins that bleeds into the postgame. Drake follows him and threatens to fight him, saying “I’m here in real life.” Quoted after the game, the 6’10”, 270 pound Perkins said of the 6-foot, 180 pound, Drake, “What could he possibly do to me? I mean, really?”

November 2018: The Warriors face-off again against the Raptors. Toronto wins 131-128 in overtime despite 51 points by Durant, who gives a hug and his jersey to Drake after the game. This didn’t stop Durant from trying to squeeze Drake by the nipple as he went off the court.

May 2019: Drake missed the opening series with the Orlando Magic because he was on tour in April, but he made sure he kept his May open. He gave Head Coach Nick Nurse a brief reassuring shoulder rub during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks. He attended the final game against the Milwaukee Bucks in the same gear that Tupac Shakur wore in the movie “Above the Rim.”

May 30 2019: Even as the NBA signals it will pay more attention to Drake’s sideline antics, the sassy Scorpio demonstrates his indomitable will to troll, arriving at the game in the autographed, old school Raptor jersey of Steph Curry’s father, Dell Curry (both wore the number 30), who played for Toronto from 1999 to 2002.

And later that same night… Drake gets into an argument with Draymond Green as the Warriors are leaving the court moments after the Raptors’ 118-109 victory, appearing to call Green and/or the team “trash.” This comes hours after a pregame presser where NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed his confidence that “we ended up in a good place,” following a meeting with Drake and his manager. In the past, Drake had expressed respect for Draymond in the song “Summer Sixteen.” Following the game, Green commented to a reporter: “It wasn’t really a scuffle. I didn’t push him and he didn’t push me. We talked.”

And finally on night one of the finals, Drake took to Instagram, writing: “Steph Curry hair lint for sale on my eBay right now!!! username: DraymondShouldntWear23”