Mirror, Mirror: The Raptors’ Reflection in Film
The Toronto Raptors are a group of guys bursting with not only remarkably unique talent on the court, but also distinct personalities off of it.
What follows is the entirety of the 15-man roster, with each player being matched to a movie character for comparison. This is a personal list and is therefore highly subjective (each choice does come with a short explanation), and creating your own list at home is recommended.
There are, of course, spoilers for the films below, so if you haven’t seen a movie listed beside a player’s name, perhaps go watch it first and return to this list later so that you can disagree with me even more vehemently than prior to your enriching viewing experience.
KYLE LOWRY (John Keating, Dead Poets Society)
O Captain! My Captain!
Kyle Lowry is an artist, the heartbeat and motor of a basketball team that ultimately couldn’t hum without him the way it does with him. It has been the defining feature of this golden era of Raptors basketball more than anything else—Lowry keeps the team afloat, keeps them balanced, and takes upon himself the role of an intangibles king, striving for perfection in every single possession.
Expressed simply: He inspires winning.
Such a thing could be said, put in the context of a classroom with a bunch of talented yet disjointed students, of one John Keating, the charismatic - English teacher who eruditely strives to extract the dormant brilliance of his pupils in order for them to reach a level of fulfillment both for themselves and each other. He keeps the class together, as best he can, pushing for the betterment of a greater good in his own personal quest for a particular type of perfection.
He, too, inspires winning—just of a different sort.
Either way, expect both to have you standing loyally upon your chair, ready to tackle whatever challenge looms next.
FRED VANVLEET (Rocky Balboa, Rocky)
We all know the story by now—VanVleet went to Wichita State, where he spent four years, before declaring for the NBA draft and having no one select him. Then, he was picked up by the Raptors organization and dropped into Raptors 905, where he helped them win a title before eventually doing the same with the parent club in 2019 on the world’s grandest basketball stage.
And for the entirety of it all, VanVleet bet on himself.
So does Rocky Balboa, the titular protagonist of pop culture’s quintessential underdog tale, as he transitions from a life of relative obscurity, taking boxing matches at small gyms, to one of seismic proportions when he’s called out by world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.
Rocky, like VanVleet, is an unrelenting force in the sport of his choice, driven by an intense love for his family and friends and an overwhelming desire to prove his worth. No matter how many times he’s knocked down, or how brutally (for the record, VanVleet’s scar is far cooler than anything Rocky wound up with), he gets up again.
The only substantial difference here? VanVleet got the win the first time—it took Rocky two flicks to get it done.
OG ANUNOBY (Spock, The Star Trek film franchise)
Could this one have been any more obvious?
OG Anunoby is as close to Spock as it gets, a pragmatic, stoic figure in his own right, with more than enough esotericism to keep people on their toes and a competitive fire that is perhaps more human than it seems.
PASCAL SIAKAM (Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
Things just seem to work out for Siakam, whether by his own volition or by mere chance. Certainly he puts substantial effort into improving his game, but there’s also an effortlessness to everything he does, as if all that he’s accomplished (and continues to accomplish) was simply meant to be.
On top of all that, he carries a genuine, infectious joy both on the hardwood and as a person.
This may as well be a description for the fourth wall-breaking teenager Ferris Bueller, whose easygoing and fun-loving nature carries him through life at a leisurely pace. Ferris puts in the work to get what he wants (and, much like Siakam, does it at an elite level), such as building an elaborate contraption to make everyone believe he’s home sick when he isn’t, but he’s also unfathomably lucky, blessed with good timing and unmatched street smarts.
You’re still here? It’s over. That’s the answer. Go on to the next comparison.
MARC GASOL (Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)
If there is one player on the Raptors whose game is convincing enough to have you believe that everything he does is by design, it’s Gasol. Rarely looking to shoot (sometimes unselfish to a fault), he’s instead always focused on the bigger picture, making winning plays here and there, sometimes obvious (hitting cutters along the baseline with pristine passes), and sometimes less obvious (acting as the team’s most imposing screener).
Compare with Gandalf, the legendary self-proclaimed wizard of Middle-earth. No matter the situation, whether it be dire or no, there is an ethereal understanding that his presence means security, and that in the moments he chooses to exert the full extent of his formidable authority, it’s because the plan deems it so.
For, after all, a wizard (and a 6’11”, passing savant) is never late, he arrives precisely when he means to.
SERGE IBAKA (Lando Calrissian, The Star Wars franchise)
A charming con artist (I mean, are we sure all of the participants know what they’re getting into on “How Hungry Are You?”) whose outfits have more flair than any single shot in a J.J. Abrams joint?
I mean, c’mon.
NORMAN POWELL (Baby, Baby Driver)
Powell takes his job as seriously as anyone, and when he's on a roll, he’s explosive, able to rack up a bushel of points at a moment’s notice. But he’s also one of the more playful Raptors, a guy who knows that life needs a little colour, a little pizzazz.
The freewheeling Baby matches this description pretty astutely—he’s one heck of a getaway driver (perhaps the best) who is earnest about the importance of and dangers included within his role. At the same time, he lives in a world made up of musical whimsy (on account of ), never one to shy away from taking a moment to appreciate the rhythmic side of existence that many tend to overlook.
Can’t you just picture Powell in a deep red Subaru Impreza, window rolled down, peering out at you overtop a pair of rugged sunglasses before winking and tearing away to disappear round the nearest bend?
RONDAE HOLLIS-JEFFERSON (Andrew Neiman, Whiplash)
There is a scene in this flick in which the lead character, Andrew, gets struck by an oncoming vehicle while driving as he’s talking on his cellphone. Prying himself from the wreckage, Andrew looks desperately for his drum sticks (he is a percussionist), locates them while ignoring a concerned pedestrian, and takes off for practice where he sits down and, despite incredulous looks from those around him, participates, leaving blood stains upon the instruments.
That’s a pretty good metaphor for how hard Hollis-Jefferson works on the floor. He’s just going to grind (leaving blood, sweat, and tears in his wake) until he gets there, wherever there is.
TERENCE DAVIS (Conor, Sing Street)
Davis has spent a large portion of this season being described as an unearthed gem, a diamond in the rough that nobody saw except for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster when they picked him out of the undrafted player pool to give him a shot at making the team. Davis has outperformed all expectations, and with every passing game continues to show growth that elevates his ceiling to a greater extent.
Existing within 1980s Dublin, Conor, an angsty teenager in love with a neighbour-girl and with a passion for music, also finds himself a greater talent than anyone (even himself) thought he could be. Conor’s voice is undeniably rough to start the film, but as it progresses and experiences attach themselves to him and he continues to grow and push himself, he elevates his life from that of a no-name, going nowhere kid stuck on an island into a true musician with a future across the waves.
We already know Conor gets there. Davis’ journey is just getting started.
CHRIS BOUCHER (Maverick, Top Gun)
There are plenty of highly confident characters throughout the history of film, but something about Maverick seems to suit Boucher just right, even if it’s tough to imagine him spending much of his free time playing beach volleyball in slow motion. There’s a genuine warmth and earnestness that underlies Maverick’s need-for-speed, self-assured attitude, and that same something bubbles just below the surface of Boucher the person, while his gunslinging on-court persona matches Maverick’s in-flight one with gusto.
MATT THOMAS (John Wick, John Wick)
Shooters shoot, baby.
PATRICK MCCAW (Westley, The Princess Bride)
Winners win, baby.
MALCOLM MILLER (Frank Abagnale Jr., Catch Me if You Can)
Miller is a prototypical 3&D-type player, the sort of guy that teams across the league are always searching for. He provides reliable defence at multiple positions, and he can catch-and-shoot with the best of them from various spots on the floor.
You might even say he’s a plug-and-play guy, and there’s perhaps no one more plug-and-play in the world of film than Frank Abagnale Jr.
Need a doctor? He’s got you covered. Need a pilot? He can do that, too. Need a lawyer? You already know.
Bouncing around from job to job and somehow managing to do each one successfully (at least, to a degree) is about as close a comparison as you can ask for when it comes to someone who seems to fit so seamlessly no matter where you slot him.
STANLEY JOHNSON (Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy)
Strength. Protection. An unforgettable smile.
Look no further than Groot for comparison here, a sentient tree-creature from the far reaches of some distant galaxy who is constantly focused on defending his friends (especially his best pal Rocket) from danger while doing it all with a knowing smile that underscores his heart of gold.
DEWAN HERNANDEZ (William “Will” Stronghold, Sky High)
Enter the rook.
Just like Will attending Sky High for the first time amongst a plethora of super-powered students, Hernandez is getting his first taste of the NBA, dipping his toes into the water and being exposed to reality’s version of super-powered people—high-level athletes.
As his career rolls along, Hernandez is sure to discover aspects of his game that he didn’t even know he had (à la Will discovering his own personal superpowers) that will hopefully carry him to even greater heights.
A new journey begins.