Think back 14 years ago to the re-introduction of basketball in Canada. Despite its northern roots, most Canadians had only a rudimentary understanding of the game. Then along came Leo Rautins.
Since day one, the 49-year-old Toronto native has been one of the pre-eminent voices for basketball in this hockey-obsessed country. He has forced us to become more knowledgeable about hoops without force-feeding the inane minutiae of every play.
In those formative years of the Toronto Raptors, he carefully separated useful information from pointless drivel. That was important to building the fan base in a time when nobody was quite sure if basketball would be truly accepted north of the border.
Early on it was clear that basketball was not Canada’s game even though it was invented by one of our own, James Naismith.
So Rautins took up the task of breaking it down and giving us easier chunks to chew. His Rautins on Roundball segments were educational and fun and enhanced enjoyment of the game.
As an analyst on various sports networks in Canada, he manages to further that education without talking down to us.
He is the consummate professional and has proven his style and easy-going personality can mesh with a variety of play-by-play men.
Rautins first pairing was with John Saunders and the two played off each other with perfection in the Raptors’ infancy.
Next was the excitable Chuck Swirsky with whom he maintained an even temperament and coolness with his calls.
This past season was his first with new partner, Matt Devlin and, again, he showed he can add some real color and familiarity to the proceedings while Devlin learned the Canadian ropes.
Rautins knows the game intimately from the inside having played in the NBA and starring in college. He was drafted in 1983 number 17 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. That made him the first-ever Canadian taken in the first round.
In college, he started with the University of Minnesota in the 1978-79 season but really made his mark in his last two college seasons after transferring to Syracuse.
Knee injuries made his NBA career a short one. He played in only 28 games his rookie season, starting three. He averaged only seven minutes per game and under two points.
He went to the Atlanta Hawks the following season but played in only three contests. While that classifies him as a first-round bust, as a basketball personality he retains his first round status.
After leaving the association he continued his career with several European teams. His understanding of the subtle differences between the game here and overseas has also become more relevant with the increased international flavour infused in the NBA.
He is also the head coach of the Canadian national team. He has been guiding that squad for more than four years and now brings a coach’s perspective to his expert analysis.
When not in the analyst’s chair you can often catch Rautins on the Raptors Post Up show extolling the team's virtues or lamenting their ills. Never afraid to call it like he sees it, his criticisms tend to be on point.
All this and his longevity on the basketball scene have made him a prevalent name in Toronto sports broadcasting and make him Canada’s basketball voice.