Olynyk's Dreams Come True in Hometown
TORONTO – The first breath Kelly Olynyk ever took was that of Toronto air. On April 19, 1991, Ken and Arlene Olynyk welcomed their future basketball star into the world in one of Canada’s greatest cities.
Kelly was essentially born and raised in Toronto. This was his home for the first 12 years of his life. This was where his lifelong dreams were molded.
The Toronto Raptors were founded in 1995, just in time for Olynyk to idolize them as he began to recognize what basketball even was. The youngster grew up bleeding red and purple (the team’s former colors) as he followed every dribble the Raptors took.
“I was a huge fan,” Olynyk said of the Raptors. “I would go any time I could, any time I was allowed to stay up. When I was younger, I used to always watch the games on TV, and then go outside at halftime and start practicing stuff I saw. I was a die-hard fan. I loved it.”
Fortunately for Olynyk, and in turn the Celtics, so did his parents. They loved the Raptors as much as Kelly did, which worked in his favor for those late nights of watching basketball.
“My mom was a scorekeeper ever since the Raptors started,” said Olynyk. “Until we left town (in 2003-04), she was the head scorekeeper for the Raptors, and then my dad actually worked with the Raptors for one year when Lenny Wilkens was the head coach.”
Kelly’s father, Ken, has deep basketball roots in the city of Toronto. He was the head basketball coach at the University of Toronto for more than a decade, leading the team to a 128-92 record over 13 seasons. Fourteen of the program’s 29 playoff victories were attained under the watchful eye of Ken.
Athletes who are born into a coach’s family are always blessed with a head start. They’re taught to play the game properly from a very young age, oftentimes leading to what many term a “high basketball IQ.”
But just because someone is properly instructed doesn’t mean that person wants to play the game. Kelly had to learn to love basketball, and he did so through the Raptors.
“It’s like your goals, aspirations, dreams… it’s right in your backyard,” Olynyk explained. “I’m sure every kid in Boston watched the Celtics play, or out in L.A. watched the Clippers or Lakers, or now in Miami. It’s all about that. That kind of gives kids the dreams, aspirations, goals for their life and it definitely gave me mine.”
Now, 22 years, six months and 11 days after that first breath of Toronto air, Kelly will have the opportunity to fulfill those dreams, aspirations and goals on the court he grew up watching.
Boston’s rookie big man has been blessed with an extremely unique opportunity. NBA players come from all over the world, from big countries to small countries, and big cities to small cities. Many American-born players are able to return to their hometown areas to play a game at some point in their rookie season, but rarely does that happen in their very first game.
“It’s pretty special. It’s cool,” Kelly said of playing his very first professional game in the Air Canada Centre. “I’ve been there hundreds of times, and to be able to play there – I’ve played there before with the national team – but to be able to play there against the Raptors, growing up in Toronto, I mean, that’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s pretty special. It’s something that you kind of sit there and realize that your dreams come true and all your hard work paid off in the end.”
Kelly won’t be the only one in the arena realizing those dreams. His parents will be, too.
Ken and Arlene made the cross-country trip to see their son make his NBA debut tonight. As Kelly explained to Celtics.com, that’s essentially the Canadian version of flying from Los Angeles to Boston.
In addition to Kelly’s parents, the big man is also hoping to have many of his childhood friends in attendance for tonight’s game. That is, if he can scrounge up some tickets.
Jeff Green knows all about that side of things. Green, a Maryland native who went to Georgetown University, made his return to Washington, D.C. Jan. 6, 2008. He doesn’t remember much about that situation, but he does remember the stress of collecting enough tickets for his family and friends.
“The first thing I remember is just trying to get tickets,” Green recalled. “It was a hassle. I think I had to get like 30 tickets just so family could come.”
Everyone wants to satisfy their family and friends, not only with tickets, but also with a strong performance. That puts a lot of stress and anxiety on a rookie’s plate, all of which is amplified when the game is played on Opening Night.
“The nerves do kick in because you want to perform well,” said Green. “And you’re at a level where you worked so hard to get to and now your family can watch you play on the NBA level. I think you just want to try to be perfect.”
Green went on to explain that he noticed signs of those nerves when the C’s played an exhibition game in Toronto on October 16.
“I talked to Kelly this preseason when we went to Toronto and I can tell he was nervous,” Green said. “I think he was thinking too much like I was my rookie year – thinking about tickets, trying to see family, trying to get back to my stomping grounds. But I think when it’s all said and done, once the ball’s tossed up, I think he’ll be fine with this first game.”
Let’s hope that such is the case. One of the top Canadian basketball players of all time returns to his hometown. He shakes his first-game jitters, he helps his team grab a win, and he makes his family and friends proud. All on his old home court.
From Toronto to Toronto, that’s one heck of a storyline on Opening Night.