For some teams, they'll remember the prolonged practice sessions and exhibition runs for their developmental importance. For the Raptors, though, it will go down as a glaring stain; the time when the franchise's beloved mascot, the Raptor, was lost for the year after suffering a torn Achilles during a performance for school children in Halifax.
As Yahoo! Sports' Dan Devine noted, the Raptor's injury couldn't have come at a worse time:
While we wouldn't put it past the Raptor to embark on a Kobe Bryant-like timetable-shattering recovery from this particular injury, the timing of the injury put the Raptors in the unenviable position of finding another focal point for their in-game entertainment (besides, y'know, the team) just a month before the start of the 2013-14 regular season.
Rather than force some novice to don the outfit of a living legend—the Raptor had been around as long as the franchise itself—the Toronto brass opted for a temporary solution.
"Stripes" is the solution's name, a black-clad version of the mascot who will take a more grounded approach to engaging the fanbase. In other words, there will be plenty of high-fives and photo ops, but not the high-flying displays that sent the Raptor to the sideline.
Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has the details:
It’ll wear No. 13 on the front of its jersey and No. 14 on the back because it’s a one-year replacement. The look is different — black jersey and striped sleeves — and the antics won’t be nearly as theatrical as those of The Raptor, who blew out an Achilles tendon doing a routine backflip at a pre-season appearance in Halifax nearly a month ago.
Shannon Hosford, vice president of marketing and communications at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told Smith that the franchise wanted to be upfront about the accident. "We didn't want to trick our fans and put someone else out there as the Raptor," Hosford said. "We just wanted to be straight up about what happened."
This also eases the pressure on "Stripes" to fill the Raptor's shoes. “The Raptor is next to impossible to replace,” Hosford told Smith.
While certainly not forgotten, the Raptor won't be gone either. His rehab process will be tracked and unveiled through a series of in-game videos throughout the year, via Smith.
The news comes with a breath of fresh air, but a hint of pressure as well. The team can't blame the Raptor's absence if Rudy Gay's improved vision and Jonas Valanciunas' anticipated leap aren't enough to snap the franchise's five-year playoff drought.
If all else fails, maybe a win-one-for-the-Raptor mentality will be enough to power Toronto through.