TORONTO – The star of the show dressed up for Drake Night at the Raptors’ game Saturday, living up to a past promise while making a vintage fashion statement.
Drake was clad in a stylish light brown suit, checked shirt and houndstooth-patterned tie. But prompted by a Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment official, the Toronto hip-hop star took off his suit jacket to show an inner lining in the design of a Vince Carter No. 15 jersey.
“Last time I came to a press conference I said that I needed sort of maybe a better suit option,” Drake told reporters at a pre-game media availability. “So I got the custom suit done today, paying homage to everything that we believe in.”
That was a reference to the September news conference when the Raptors named Drake their new “global ambassador.”
Drake wore an electric blue suit that day that stood out in a seat of black and grey suits, prompting the musician to joke he would “have to go to Harry Rosen and get some more neutral suits because the vibrant blues aren’t going to cut it.”
On Saturday night, fans at the Air Canada Centre got a limited-edition Drake Night T-shirt, black with a gold Raptors design on the front and an owl on the back (the logo of his OVO clothing brand and record label), and a halftime DJ set by Future The Prince.
Drake music played before the game and Drake introduced the Raptors’ starting lineup with his own touches, calling coach Dwane Casey “dashedly handsome” and informing the crowd that Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas likes spending his free time at the Scarborough Town Centre.
Drake sat courtside during the game, wearing one of the giveaway T-shirts and a baseball hat turned backwards. He launched himself out of his seat when the Raptors pulled off something special.
Between the first and second quarter, he gave away a signed Raptors jersey with his name on the back and the number 416. During the second quarter, two fans competed in a contest to see who could do the best job of rapping Drake’s “Forever.”
Drake took advantage of the break to slip to briefly join the Raptors broadcast crew of Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong. The Raptors Dance Pak strutted their stuff to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” and “Fancy.”
It made for a raucous first half, especially as the Raptors built a lead en route to a 96-80 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
“It’s really about the city,” the relaxed rapper said earlier of his role with MLSE and the Raptors. “My phone was blowing up all day long for people that wanted to come to a Raptors’ game. That to me is exciting.
“Tonight isn’t a Drake show. It’s got nothing really to do with Drake. I mean at the end of the day, the Raptors are playing the Brooklyn Nets. It’s really got nothing to do with me, I’m just going to be sitting there.
“But the fact that people want to come out, participate, get a free T-shirt. If that’s what it takes to put people in the stands, then every night can be Drake Night if you want. if I didn’t have to tour, I’d come every night. I just want to add to the city and the team.”
Drake was hard to miss on the night — starting with a message on the video board of how he grew up supporting the Raptors.
Valanciunas, from Utena, Lithuania, was clearly looking forward to the evening.
“Started from Utena… Now I’m here. Getting ready for Drake night tonight,” the six-foot-11 centre said in a tweet.
Casey, meanwhile, welcomed the Drake theme night but acknowledged his musical tastes were rooted further in the past — the likes of James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips.
But he said he enjoyed Drake’s music and was impressed by the way the rapper represents the team around the world.
“It’s good for our organization to have Drake identified with it,” the 56-year-old coach said before the game. “We live in a hop-hop society. Our players are far more in-tune with his music, more so than I am.”
Drake has already paid dividends for the sports empire.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has leaned on the entertainer to help — successfully — sell England soccer star Jermain Defoe on joining Toronto FC of Major League Soccer.
Tim Leiweke, MLSE president and CEO, said Drake had made several calls to the Tottenham striker.
“They still talk to each other,” Leiweke told The Canadian Press on Friday. “I don’t think Jermain’s joining the band and I’m fairly certain Drake’s not joining the team but they’ve forged a good friendship.”
Toronto FC announced Friday that Defoe would join the team at the end of February.
The Nets had their own marquee rapper in Jay-Z who helped rebrand the team in its first season in Brooklyn. Jay-Z eventually sold his minor share in the franchise to enter the sports agent business.
Drake said the two have not compared notes on branding, however.
“The last time I saw him was on New Year’s Eve,” Drake reminisced. “There was a lot of champagne going around. The last thing we were thinking of was the Raptors’ rebrand.”