The red-hot Toronto Raptors have dominated headlines since punching their ticket to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
James Lackey has found himself with a rather unique predicament: Who to root for.
The answer may seem fairly obvious to most who live north of the border, but the Brampton teacher and coach has opted to back the competition.
It was the early 2000s and Lackey was coaching basketball at Queensway Christian College in Etobicoke. Dwindling enrollment numbers has since led to the school’s closure.
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“The ladies down in the main office rang down and they said ‘You’ve got to get down here. Dell Curry is here,'” he told Global News.
“He was the big star. They said he’s enrolling his three children in our school.”
That included Stephen Curry’s brother Seth Curry, who now plays for the Portland Trailblazers. They were swept by the Warriors in the last round.
“In your mind, you’re thinking Dell Curry is a big guy,” he explained. “And I thought his kids are going to be pretty big as well.”
What he saw was a pint-sized prospect who stood a mere five feet three inches tall, a far cry from the 31-year-old’s stature now.
Stephen was in the eighth grade and his brother was in the sixth. Lackey coached them both.
He said Curry possessed an unparalleled understanding of how the sport worked.
“He understood where people should be. It was funny, I would tell the guys in the first couple of practices – I said ‘Stephen’s going to pass you the ball at the least expected time, so always keep your hands up. Don’t put your hands down ’cause you’ll get it right in the face.'”
Not everyone heeded that advice.
“In the first two practices, I think we had three bloody noses,” he recalled. “Kids had their hands down and Stephen would make a pass and they’d say ‘I didn’t even think he knew I was open.'”
Curry racked up anywhere from 40 to 50 points a game and led the little team that could to an undefeated season. For a school with a modest population of around 100, it was a significant feat to say the least.
Lackey currently teaches at Brampton Christian School and intends on watching every game closely. He received a text from Curry himself recently, voicing excitement over a return to the city.
While he only spent a year at the school, they have managed to keep in touch every so often.
In southern California, another coach has his eyes fixed on the series. Tim Sweeney, however, will be rooting for the Raptors.
He coached Kawhi Leonard at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California. Sweeney said even at 16, it was obvious Leonard was destined for greatness.
“Within the first two trips up and down the court, I called my father who was a hall of fame high school coach and a college coach,” he said. “I said, ‘you’ve got to get down here. I think we’ve got an NBA player in our midst.’ And he came down and he looked and he goes ‘wow.'”
Fans have been wowed by his performance since the Raptors made the crucial acquisition. He has been especially instrumental in the postseason.
Sweeney believes there may be a chance Leonard will stay in Toronto. More than 50 restaurants have already signed on to feed the Raptor for free for life. He’s also been offered some lavish real estate finds in order to make staying the city a more palatable prospect.
“For me, I think it’s a 55 to 45 chance he’s staying, but you know you’ve got LeBron James and everybody trying to get him to the Lakers. And the Clippers are trying to get him.”
Free agency begins at 6 p.m. June 30.
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