Disinterest, delusion – vintage ‘Turkaboo’

The NBA, in the name of a crackdown on post-whistle whining, is
empowering its referees to treat its players with all the tolerance
of a Chinese censor. Zebras are slapping dissidents with pre-season
technical fouls and accompanying fines for the slightest of
sideways glances, shoulder shrugs, dismissive waves, sarcastic
smiles.

And for all those purists who are happy about this – and there
is little doubt that the moaning and whining had become epidemic –
you sometimes have to wonder if the league is targeting the wrong
guys. Instead of fining players for complaining too much, wouldn’t
it be a better world if there were a way to penalize the schleps
who care too little?

At least, this was a thought that came to mind on Sunday
afternoon at the Air Canada Centre, where Hedo Turkoglu, in his
first appearance in Toronto since his July shipment to Phoenix, was
feted with the expected crescendo of displeasure from an announced
crowd of 12,902.

A fan held up a sign that summed up the purpose of an otherwise
uneventful pre-season walk-around: “TURKABOO” was the message. The
rabble wasn’t exactly in mid-season form, even if the
Raptors pulled off a 121-100 win.
(“It wasn’t as bad as Vancouver,” said Steve Nash, Turkoglu’s
newly-minted teammate, speaking of the reaction of the West Coast
throng that took in a
Raptors-Suns exhibition 11 days
previous.)

But Turkoglu reacted exactly as you might have expected. He
laughed openly. He actually applauded the crowd during the player
introductions. He even led the chorus at one point, checking in at
the scorer’s table while expelling a long “Booooooooo!” In other
words, he acted as though he didn’t care – which is exactly how he
played.

Turkoglu, to refresh your memory of the ledger, took a $53
million contract from the Toronto
Raptors and essentially took a
season from them, too. In his lone, barren year as a
Raptor, he loafed and
under-performed for a club that underachieved and missed the
playoffs. That doesn’t make him a bad human being; the jolly Turk
seems like he’d be a fun guy to have drinks with. It does make him
a bad pro, not to mention an unaccountable one.

Turkoglu blamed the coach’s “system” for his poor work – as if
Xs and Os prevent anyone from hustling. And then he ripped the
organization after it was good enough to grant him his wish for a
new address. He stuck to that line of attack on Sunday. And he
offered a delusional new wrinkle to the storyline, insisting the
fans booed him, in Toronto and Vancouver, because they were upset
he left the
Raptors.

When told he was being booed because of the widespread
perception (and veritable certainty) that he didn’t give full
effort last season, he shrugged.

“Listen, I couldn’t (give full effort),” Turkoglu said. A system
that didn’t allow him to handle the ball, he said, apparently
rendered him unable to run hard and rebound and make jump shots.
And then he got back to ripping an employer that gave him the
biggest contract of his career. Speaking of the alleged tendency of
Toronto’s best players to want out – an erroneous perception in an
era of free agency, given that the two best players in franchise
history, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, both re-upped with the
Raptors after their rookie-scale
deals expired – Turkoglu happily kicked some dirt.

“People have to realize it’s not always the players,” said
Turkoglu. “People just got to see what’s really going on and make a
judgment after that. I’m not a random guy. Chris (Bosh) was an
all-star. Other guys, all-stars, too. You have to ask them what was
the reason that they left. Then people will realize … instead of
just going after the players. (Vince) Carter, Tracy (McGrady),
whatever. I know (Bosh), I hope he doesn’t get booed. He gave a lot
of good stuff for this organization. I think he deserves to be
welcomed in a nice way.”

If the organization has made a mistake, of course, it’s treating
the likes of Carter and Turkoglu with kid gloves. And, you know,
building 15 years’ worth of mostly-crappy teams.

We’ll have to wait for Feb. 16 to see how Bosh is welcomed here.
And Turkoglu won’t get his regular-season dose until Feb. 25.

“I’ve got to come here one more time … and get booed again,”
he said. “When I came here, people think that I wasn’t paying
attention or I wasn’t serious. But this is how I play. And if you
look at it in the past, that’s how I do. I enjoy the game, and I go
out there and I try to do my best. But here, I guess they
misunderstand.”

No, no, people in Toronto don’t misunderstand: Turkoglu played
with purpose during a 2008-09 contract year in Orlando, and much
less so once he got the money.

Slap a technical on Toronto’s fan base for after-the-foul
complaining, but understand this: If the faithful in these parts
have been guilty of one thing, it’s for making the mistake of
expecting a well-paid athlete to actually care about his craft.