Beard: Toronto fans embrace Dwane Casey — as they should

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Former Toronto Raptors coach and current Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey waves to the crowd during a tribute before the game.

Toronto — Pistons coach Dwane Casey didn’t know what to expect.

And truly, it was a somewhat awkward situation Wednesday, when he returned to Toronto for the first time as an opposing coach, fired after seven successful seasons of resurrecting the Raptors organization.

The buildup to his homecoming seemed to be more for the fans and media than for Casey himself, as he tried to hold back and remain stoic about his feelings. He said Tuesday that it was hard to be happy or keep things positive after being fired by Raptors president Masai Ujiri in May. 

“I have no ill will for anybody,” Casey said. “I understand what happened and how it happened. I don’t know why it happened — but I understand it.”

But time tends to heal most wounds.

Canada tends to take those wounds, give it a hug — and maybe even a sincere Canadian apology — and make sure the fences are mended.

The important thing to remember about Toronto is that it’s not New York or Philadelphia or Chicago or some rabid fan base. In many ways, it feels like Canadians are programmed to be good-natured and polite. That showed through as Casey received an ovation as he walked unannounced onto the court for the first time — and then a bigger one after he was introduced.

Casey said earlier in the day that he wasn't sure what reception to expect but that he didn’t think he would let the setting get the best of him.

“I’m not going to get emotional. I’ll appreciate it and I’ll really absorb whatever comes my way — the boos or cheers — but not to the point I’m going to cry.

“Blake (Griffin) wouldn’t let me live it down.”

It would have been understandable if Casey had gotten a little misty after the Raptors feted him during the first timeout of the first quarter with a video tribute that highlighted his accomplishments during his tenure with Toronto.

More than the video, the fan reception — another rousing standing ovation throughout most of the video — was a clearer indication of how much Casey was appreciated and revered in Toronto.

Casey, in his laser-focused attention, almost missed it all. 

"I didn’t even see it. Blake grabbed me and told me I’d better stand up. I heard the crowd and really I appreciate that," Casey said. "It's one of the best organizations in sports, not just basketball."

The media scrum for the morning shoot-around was about 30 members, replete with many of the same writers and personalities who covered Casey for his rise to NBA coach of the year last season.

He was asked about the “Canadian Way” and what he’s taken from his time in Toronto.

“Tim Horton’s. my son loves Timbits and thank God they have Timbits and Tim Horton’s in Detroit,” Casey joked. “He wouldn’t be able to survive if they didn’t.”

Casey elaborated, highlighting some of the true Canadian values that aligned him with the city, the fan base and the country. It was also about giving back to the basketball community as a whole and to impact the sport’s spread and reception in the country.

“Treating people right, being nice to people and being honest to people,” Casey reiterated. “All those things are positive Canadian norms and values that my kids picked up, and I hope it rubbed off on me too.

“I understand I’m with the opposing team. I thank God every day that I was able to come here and give something to basketball, as Vince Carter did. I tried to help coaches across the country and in the city and brought them in and made them part of our program.

“Basketball in Canada is at an all-time high.”

That’s Casey’s legacy in Toronto, despite the way things ended last season: he’s still beloved in The North.

No different team or uniform is going to change that.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard