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.