Coming to the Toronto Raptors in the expansion draft in the first season of this city’s basketball franchise in 1995-96 was not appealing to John “Spider” Salley. He was leaving the sunshine of Miami, which he enjoyed even though he did not have a healthy relationship with the then general manager, for unfamiliar territory and a new experience.
Toronto and Vancouver were the first cities outside the United States to enter the National Basketball Association (NBA) that season and expectations were not high even though interest was huge.
Salley, picked 11th in the 1986 draft by the Detroit Pistons with whom he won back-to-back-titles before being traded to Miami in 1992, lasted just 25 games with the Raptors – six as a starter – before his contract was bought out on February 2, 1996.
“I did not enjoy my time with the franchise,” Salley told Share last Friday. “The coach (Brendan Malone) cut me off after 10 games and did not give me any significant playing time after that.”
Not enjoying relegation to the bench, Salley approached then executive vice-president and former teammate Isiah Thomas requesting to be traded or released.
“I told Isiah things were not working out here and he asked me what I wanted to do,” recalled Salley who was in Toronto for the first time in two years to lend his name to a charitable event and get outfitted for some new suits. “He could have traded me to Orlando before the season or to Chicago or Detroit. However, he did not want to deal with Detroit and he said Chicago and Orlando were not offering him enough for me.”
Thomas presented Salley with the opportunity to be released on condition that he return his $750,000 signing bonus to the team.
“I did it and I tell people that I was the first and only free slave in the NBA because I owned my rights,” he said. “It’s sort of funny because slaves in America gained their freedom by crossing the border into Canada and here I was paying to get out.”
Salley played with the Bulls and in Greece in 1996 and also with the Los Angeles Lakers before retiring for the second and final time in 2000.
While he did not relish his short stay with the Raptors, Salley enjoys Toronto, its diversity and the relationships he established.
“I absolutely love Toronto,” he said. “I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn and I tell people that is baby Jamaica. In the U.S., Caribbean people and Black Americans are always separated. But here, there are so many nationalities and everybody seems to get along. Toronto is also clean and fresh and it’s like somebody thought about it when they made this city. In addition, Canadians still say sorry for everything they did not do.”
Salley, who once owned a 62-room castle-like structure that was the home of Detroit cardinals and bishops, a $3.6 million Beverley Hills Mediterranean-style mansion, and rented a home in affluent Forest Hills while he was with the Raptors, loves the spotlight and Hollywood’s bright lights.
He played roles in Bad Boys and Bad Boys 2, made appearances in the Luther Vandross music video, “Take You Out”, and in the reality TV series “Fast Cars and Superstars” and is an ambassador for Operation Smile.
Salley recently joined the Reelz channel as a special correspondent reporting from red carpets and other celebrity events and is negotiating with a Canadian network to host an entertainment show.
While he attended last Friday’s Toronto Raptors-Oklahoma City Thunder game at the Air Canada Centre, the jovial and witty seven-footer made it clear he’s not much of a basketball fan.
“Basketball is entertainment, but it’s not the form of entertainment I want to be in,” said the vegetarian and vegan who took part in last October’s Walk for Farm Animals. “Pro athletes are treated like bad horses. They make a lot of money, but many of them don’t enjoy it. Family and friends, however, do. From an early age, you are trained to be an athlete and not a financial guru and you go to college because you get a scholarship to play basketball.”
The first player in NBA history to play on three different championship-winning franchises, Salley said his circle of basketball friends is now limited to a few. They include former Raptors coach Darrell Walker and ex-teammates James “Buddha” Edwards and Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach, Brian Shaw who, he predicts, will be a head coach shortly.
Shaw’s Guyanese-born mother died with her husband and their daughter in a single-vehicle accident in the Nevada desert in 1993.