MILWAUKEE — There were many possible storylines heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Did a limping Kawhi Leonard have enough left to make his typically huge impact on the game? Would Giannis Antetokounmpo decide to stop messing about and just take over the series? Could the Raptors keep up the intensity? Were the Bucks reeling? Juicy stuff, ahead of a pivotal contest.
And so, naturally, everyone was talking about Drake.
On ESPN’s flagship Get Up program on Thursday morning, one of its flagship talking heads, Stephen A. Smith, declared himself disgusted with the comments from Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had said: “There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors, to be on the court. There’s boundaries and lines for a reason.”
Budenholzer’s grave sin, it was said, was to have complained about the antics of the Raptors’ global ambassador in Game 4 at the Scotiabank Arena, instead of focusing on the factors that led to the dismantling of his team on the court, which left this playoff series tied at 2-2. If the analyst’s rant, which is in line with much of the online commentary on the alleged Bud-Drake feud, could be boiled down to one line, it is this: Worry about your own damn team and not whatever a certain hip-hop star is doing from his very expensive courtside sides.
And yet, here’s the crazy thing: That is precisely what Budenholzer has tried to do. On a conference call with media on Wednesday afternoon, the coach was asked if he had found anything Drake was doing — which included a lot of excited cheering of the Raptors and excited taunting of the Bucks, plus the odd interaction with Toronto players and a quick shoulder squeeze of coach Nick Nurse — was distracting to him as a coach.
Budenholzer said no, it was not. “To say I don’t see it at all would be inaccurate, but to say I give it much or any thought, you know, it’s kind of same answer, same mantra. I just tend to ignore and focus on our team, focus on whatever it is we need to be doing.”
So, not a problem, then. He will coach and Drake will lose his mind every now and then and that is that. Budenholzer went back to talking about basketball, but then Drake was the subject again. Was the coach aware of anyone from Bucks management contacting the NBA to inquire about crowd control issues in Toronto? Specifically, crowd control of one bearded rapper? “No, I’m not aware,” Budenholzer said. If there was an issue, someone would address it, he said. “But as of now, there’s nothing for me, there’s nothing I know of from our organization.”
Undaunted, the reporter tried again: “You don’t think there’s anything out-of-bounds up there?” He asked if the celebrity fan was being given special treatment in terms of encroachment on the court.
And here was Budenholzer: “No, I mean, I will say, again, I see it in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game that has access to the court.”
And then: “I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize.” Finally, he got to the part about fans and “whatever Drake is” and “there’s boundaries and lines for a reason.”
That’s it. He punted on the question twice and eventually conceded that if Drake was in fact all over the court, he ought not to be. For this, he was blasted all over the place for not being focused on his team.
Side note: He’s right. Reasonable people can disagree on whether Drake’s incessant peacocking is the Proper Behaviour of a fan sitting courtside. It seems to me like it’s the stuff of genuine emotion (if he’s faking his excitement, then he’s really picked up his acting chops since Degrassi) and if there’s a real villain here, it’s the TV directors who are constantly cutting to Drake reaction shots. But he can do all the hooting and hollering and air guitar-ing he wants, and he still shouldn’t be on the court. Budenholzer pointing that out is hardly a scandal.
And yet, here we are. Those who are particularly annoyed by Drake should probably steel themselves between now and Saturday’s Game 6 in Toronto. What once seemed like it might be a public-relations marriage of convenience is now evidently much deeper. His OVO company is the title sponsor of the Raptors’ practice facility, and the team recently gifted him an incredibly expensive bedazzled jacket, as one does. Whatever the precise relationship between cultural superstar and team — employee? Partner? Superfan? — he is not just some kind of hanger-on. He has the run of the place, and it’s a relationship that the Raptors organization is obviously quite pleased to have, if no doubt some of the actual Raptors find it a bit much, as they wonder why a rich and globally successful artist wants to be seen so much in their reflected glory.
So, on to two days or so of questions about what Drake will or won’t do on the sidelines during Game 6. One imagines Mike Budenholzer will not be inclined to answer any of them.