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News » The Oakley show rolls back into town

The Oakley show rolls back into town

The Oakley show rolls back into town Charles Oakley's phone went to voicemail for the umpteenth time the other day.

Still, a repeat caller never tired of hearing a four-word message delivered in the former Raptor's gruff mumble.

"The President," Oakley announced, before a dramatic pause. "Not in."

He's expected to be in the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, when Toronto's NBA team, as part of its 15th-season festivities, reportedly plan to honour him.

We say "reportedly" because Oakley, when he was finally reached for an interview Tuesday, insisted his impending presence in Toronto was "no big deal."

"I'm just signing some autographs, hanging out," he said. "I just hope they don't boo me again."

Oakley, of course, was the 6-foot-8 starting power forward on the only squad that has won a playoff series for Toronto, the grandson of an Alabama cotton picker whose work ethic took him from the hard streets of East Cleveland to a celebrated 18-season NBA career.

And yes, after he was traded by the Raptors to the Chicago Bulls - put "in the tailpipe" by former Raptors GM Glen Grunwald is how Oakley once described the move - he was booed in Toronto on the occasion of his 2001 ejection for clotheslining Vince Carter.

But on Wednesday night, the 45-year-old should be treated to a standing ovation. Toronto - heck, Basketball - hasn't seen anything quite like him since he left.

"The type of guy Charles was - with the Basketball IQ that was off the charts, and the toughness, and the physical play - it made him very rare in his day and totally extinct in today's game," said Jeff Van Gundy, the ESPN analyst who coached and coached against Oakley. "You just have so many guys now who care as much about being liked as being successful. Oakley just wasn't that type of guy."

He still isn't. In an hour-long interview Tuesday, Oakley spoke with the familiar rambling frankness that has long made him a favourite of reporters and fans, if not politically correct management types.

Sizing up this year's edition of the Raptors , complete with its defence-challenged starting five, Oakley offered unsolicited input.

"You can't build a team with five scorers on the floor," said Oakley. "Put two on the bench and put two role players out there with 'em. Somebody's got to stop somebody."

And as for the biggest moment in the franchise's inglorious history, a one-point Game 7 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the 2001 playoffs, Oakley doesn't hang it on Carter's missed jumper at the buzzer.

"Lenny (Wilkens) didn't do a good job as a coach," said Oakley. "I've been around a lot of coaches ... I knew that we weren't prepared enough."

These days, Oakley divides his time between too many ports to count. He has ownership in car washes and a restaurant in New York, a steakhouse in South Beach and he's a frequent casino-table companion of an old pal named Michael Jordan.

He is not sold on Raptors all-star Chris Bosh - "They're going to pay him $20 million to shoot jump shots?" - or on starting centre Andrea Bargnani. "You ain't going nowhere with 7-footers shooting three-pointers."

But he is, to be clear, not down on all of today's players. He "loves" Kobe Bryant's relentlessness and thinks LeBron James is "the strongest player ever to play at his size."

And if he has long been a critic of coaches - he says he thinks he'd be a good one - he has his favourites.

He said Butch Carter, the former Raptors coach whose off-court eccentricities led to an ugly 2000 firing, is "up there with Pat Riley" as a strategist. (He suggested the Cleveland Cavaliers give Butch a call). And he spoke of that 2000-01 Raptors squad, his third and final season in Toronto, with passion and regret and that old Oakley gift for analogy.

"To build a house, we started from the basement. We made steps, we built up the foundation. We just didn't get a chance to interior decorate it, didn't get a championship. But we finished the house and we lived in it for a while."

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Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 4, 2009


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