Author’s note: This interview is 100% a work of fiction. Neither Anunoby or the Toronto Raptors participated in this story. It’s meant to be an ode to Anunoby and his rising stardom, as well as to capture his unique and intriguing personality. It’s not meant to denigrate Anunoby in any way.
I pace in front of my open laptop, my hardwood floors creaking in protest.
On my screen is a live feed of an empty leather desk chair resting in front of an equally empty beige wall. The chair will soon be filled by the lengthy frame of Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby.
It’s unclear if I’m looking at the inside of a Raptors facility or OG’s home. But considering the blank, expressionless walls, I’m leaning towards the latter.
It’s mid-morning. High up on the 30th floor, it’s dead quiet inside my condo.
Outside it’s gloomy. The sun refuses to come out from under an endless blanket of clouds. The biting wind plays Ring Around the Rosie with a group of fallen leaves. It’s a typical early November day in Toronto. And typically when a new NBA season has just gotten underway.
But then again, there’s nothing typical about 2020. Which is why I’m interviewing OG over video chat instead of coffee.
So why OG? Because of all the Raptors, I find him to be the most intriguing, both as a player and a person.
So much has already been written about the forward. Yet he still remains a mystery, even in the age of social media. He’s as allusive as he is aloof. An enigma wrapped in a hoodie. A walking, reverse-jamming contradiction.
But this’s exactly the way he likes it.
He also happens to be an integral part of the Raptors’ future. A rising star coming off a breakout season and postseason.
His defensive acumen is developing at an astronomical pace. In a very short time, he’s become a defensive juggernaut, taking on (and out) the league’s toughest foes. James Harden, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have all fallen victim to the quick-moving, long-armed defensive dynamo at one time or another.
He’s the rare stopper who can guard anyone at any position at any time at an all-defensive level. Very few people outside of Canada have yet to take notice. But he’s starting to put the league on notice.
OG suddenly emerges on my screen. He’s in full bundled-up-hoodie mode — his go-to off-court uniform. He slinks his 6–7 frame into the chair, folding his 7–2 wingspan arms across his body.
It’s difficult to square this figure with the one who suits up for the Raptors. With a bright, pumpkin orange hoodie drawn snug around his face so that only his nose and bulging, thick-rimmed glasses are exposed, he looks nothing like the athletic specimen we see on the court.
On the hardwood, he’s an athletic marvel. A perfectly toned, tenacious, imposing, defensive beast who can easily guard 1 through 5. He can grab impossible rebounds and lock up players with the best of them. OG can also be a mean motherfucker. If he’s defending you, he won’t just pick your pocket. He’ll steal your entire life’s savings, and your pride, in a blink of an eye. He’s also starting to use his brute force to bang his way to the rim for easy buckets, eroding his pure 3-and-D wing status.
But off the court, he’s something different entirely. A lanky, bespectacled, awkward, soft-spoken figure who shies away from the spotlight. If you passed him on the street, other than being noticeably tall, you’d never know he was a professional basketball player.
He’s Superman and Clark Kent. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hiding Out.
OG has often been compared to Kawhi Leonard, at least in terms of his body type, otherworldly wingspan and defensive prowess. However, right now, with his orange sweatshirt zipped right to the top — hoodie swallowing up most of his face — he looks more like Kenny than Kawhi.
OG’s enigma status extends to the podium, as well. On the one hand, he’s super humble, often deflecting praise while giving credit to his teammates. But on the other hand, his answers sometimes come across as a little cocky.
After splashing a mega clutch three-pointer in double OT of Game 6 versus the Boston Celtics, he said, “I think anyone on our team could…make the shot. We have a team full of competitive guys who are all talented. Anyone can make winning plays. Anyone can do that.”
But then, when asked if he thought his game-winning triple versus the Celtics in Game 3 was going in, he said, “When I shot it, I expected to make it,” followed closely by the now infamous, “I don’t shoot trying to miss.”
There are also times when the seemingly timid and reserved OG is quite boisterous — participating in dance-offs and car karaoke. In other words, he’s a very difficult person to pin down. There isn’t a box out there that can hold OG Anunoby.
I introduce myself and outline how I plan for the Q&A session to go. I pause for a response. He stares blankly at me for a few seconds before giving the slightest of head nods. If you blinked, you would’ve missed it.
If you’ve seen any of OG’s interviews, as well as his now historic appearance on Serge Ibaka’s Avec Classe, you know that he’s a man of few words. Notorious for being terse and delivering extremely concise answers. A basketball pro short on prose. If Verbal Efficiency Rating was a stat, he’d be fighting with Leonard for tops in the league. It’s all part of the OG experience.
He peels back his hood to reveal a poppy red toque. It’s like a Russian doll of head coverings.
He looks uncomfortable, like he’s waiting for the dentist. Which is fitting since he’d probably rather have his cavities drilled than get drilled with a series of questions. But something tells me that I’m the one who’s going to be pulling teeth.
Ryan Grosman: First off, it looks like the season will be starting on December 22. How do you feel about having such a short offseason?
OG Anunoby: Like do I like it?
OG: It’s okay. It’s been productive so far.
RG: Anything specifically you’ve been working on that you can share? I don’t want you revealing any state secrets.
OG: Um, yeah. Shooting off the dribble. Ball handling. Stuff like that.
RG: Do you see yourself taking on a bigger offensive role this season?
OG: Yeah, I think so. Just being more aggressive. Trying to do more. Yeah.
Despite the I think so, he sounds confident. Self-assured. Like this is a thing that’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time.
RG: So it’s been almost two months since you left Orlando. How does it feel being free from the bubble?
OG: It’s cool.
RG: What did you do in the bubble during your down time?
OG: Um, watched TV. Streamed Netflix. YouTube TV. Video games. So all that stuff mostly.
RG: Which video games?
OG: Um, 2K. FIFA.
OG’s eyes appear heavy, likely more due to apathy than sleepiness. His face is blank and expressionless. His voice steadier than a surgeon’s hand. His tone never fluctuating. His body language whisper quiet. He’s impossible to read, like War and Peace in Russian.
He’s just a different breed of player. One who never seems fazed by the moment. Who shows zero signs of panic (or excitement, for that matter). A low heartbeat guy with an outward range of emotions the width of a microbe.
It doesn’t matter if he’s sinking a game-winner against the Celtics with 0.5 seconds left to avoid falling behind 3–0 in the East Semis or being a defensive nightmare for the NBA’s elite. His demeanour does. Not. Change.
He could be sitting in the middle of a burning room with no means of escape, mere seconds from being enveloped by the flames. And he’d still say, “That sucks,” without a tinge of concern.
Who else would treat a playoff buzzer-beating shot like it was just a practice shot in mid-January? OG’s reaction — or lack thereof — might be just as memorable as the shot itself. Even Damian Lillard waved goodbye to OKC.
RG: So how was playing in the playoffs after missing last year’s championship run?
OG: It was good. Just felt good to help the team win. So yeah, it was good.
Despite all the challenges that the Orlando bubble presented, and the racial injustice going on outside the bubble, OG still managed to burst through.
RG: How was it playing these high-pressure games in the bubble?
OG: Um, it was tough at times. But focussing on basketball helped.
I’ve watched his game-winning shot a million times and it still doesn’t compute. Kyle Lowry’s pass floating perfectly into OG’s shooting pocket. Marc Gasol screening Jaylen Brown early enough that he was a fingernail late. And of course, ice-in-his-veins OG draining the triple like it was just another bucket.
RG: You had quite a few highlights during the playoffs. Your half-second buzzer beater in Game 3 versus the Celtics tops among them. What were you thinking after the shot?
OG: What was I thinking?
OG: I was thinking, we won the game.
How Kawhian of him.
RG: Okay. So how did it feel when your teammates mobbed you after? It must’ve felt good.
OG: It was cool. But we lost the series, so that wasn’t cool.
He mildly shakes his head to indicate his disappointment. But not a trace of anguish appears on his face.
RG: Which, in your mind, was the bigger shot — your Game 3 winner or your double-OT three-pointer that put you guys up 118–117 in Game 6?
OG: Which was bigger?
RG: Yeah. Which was more important.
OG: Umm. Game 6.
RG: Why that one?
OG: Because if we lose, we go home.
RG: Where does your confidence come from to take these big shots?
OG: We have a team full of talented guys. Anyone can make winning shots. My teammates trust me to take the shot. So I trust me to take the shot.
Although OG often doesn’t say much, what he does say is usually magical. He’s already authored a number of OG-isms in his young career.
RG: You also had some of the better quotes in the bubble. Did you think your “I don’t shoot trying to miss” quote would get the reaction it did on social media?
OG: I don’t just say things to get a reaction. I say things because I want to say them.
RG: Speaking of social media, what’s the story behind deleting your Twitter account?
OG: What’s the story?
RG: Yeah. Why’d you delete it?
OG: I don’t need to tweet. If I want to say something, people will hear it.
RG: But what about all your fans? Your followers?
OG: Fans are cool. They’re still my fans with or without Twitter.
RG: But you still kept your Instagram account?
OG: Um. I don’t go on Instagram that often.
RG: You don’t? What about TikTok?
OG: I don’t mess with TikTok.
RG: Really? I saw a video of you in dance-off at Indiana. You’ve got some moves. That sort of thing kills on TikTok.
A partial smile emerges. A rare and welcome sight. But it’s gone just as fast as it appeared.
RG: So, how did you like playing the 5 for large stretches of the Celtics series? Did you know Nurse was going to do that?
OG: How did I feel playing the 5?
OG: It felt fine. Just doing whatever the coach needs me to do. Whatever the team needs.
RG: Was it a surprise that Nurse played you there? He didn’t do it much during the regular season, if it all.
OG: I wouldn’t say it was a surprise. Coach likes trying things.
RG: That’s true. Did you have some trouble guarding Theis? It looked like he kept getting behind you and throwing down some lobs and dunks.
OG: Um, I don’t know if I’d say trouble. He was giving us some problems, yeah.
He relaxes into his chair, lowering his broad shoulders. Perhaps he’s feeling more at ease. Or perhaps he’s just getting bored. I like to think it’s the former.
RG: Before the season, way back when, you told William Lou of Yahoo! Sports that the Raptors will repeat. Do you think if you got past the Celtics and Heat, you would’ve beaten the Lakers?
OG: Yeah. We had a good team.
RG: I’m sure you guys were disappointed. What is your worst or most disappointing moment you’ve had on the floor?
OG: Um. Losing to the Celtics.
RG: What about LeBron’s game-winning shot over you a few years ago? Where does that rank?
OG: Second probably, I think.
RG: Didn’t Ibaka make you wear a t-shirt with a photo of it?
OG: Yeah. I think he was just trying to make me mad.
Evidence suggests that OG is going to be a 6–7, 240-pound thorn in the side of the NBA’s elite offensive players for years to come. But since defence isn’t as flashy as scoring, it usually takes a bit longer for the media to catch on.
RG: Speaking of getting mad, you’ve quickly become one of the better defensive players in the NBA. I’d say you’re probably top five. Did getting zero votes for Defensive Player of the Year and just two for All-Defensive 2nd Team bother you at all?
He shifts in his leather chair, the friction sounding like two balloons rubbing together.
OG: No. It doesn’t bother me.
He starts rubbing his left arm, really seeming to ponder the question. I wait a few seconds on the off chance there’s more to follow. There is.
OG: Just excited for the chance to guard a lot of good players. Trying to follow the game plan, principles. Just trying to help the team win.
Not even a humble brag. His humility knows no bounds.
RG: So does anything bother you?
OG: No. Not really.
RG: How about when James Worthy referred to you as Adobe?
OG: Who’s that?
He could be serious or joking. With OG’s patented stoic, straight-faced delivery, you never truly know for certain. He’s currently rewriting the book on sarcasm.
RG: James Worthy? You know, Lakers legend. Three-time champ. Hall of Famer.
OG: Like, am I offended? No, I like Photoshop.
I chuckle involuntarily. The best kind of chuckle. OG remains…well, OG.
RG: One last question about the playoffs. What did you think about the video the Raptors put together for the Nets series? Where your brother introduced you.
OG: It was cool.
I wait for more, but there is none. Which leads to us having a staring contest. Me wanting him to go on. Him wanting me to move on.
RG: I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but why do you give such short answers? Is it about staying on brand?
OG: I don’t really have a brand.
RG: So why the short answers?
OG: It depends on the questions. Usually I’m asked bad questions.
I don’t want to know if he’s categorized my questions as bad, but given many of his curt answers, I’m guessing my shooting percentage is pretty low. Either way, I decide to change course.
RG: Are you ready for some fun-ish type questions?
His tone suggests otherwise.
RG: Why do you like reverse jams so much?
OG: What do you mean?
RG: It seems to be your go-to move.
OG: I don’t know. It looks cool.
RG: Who has the best go-to move on the team?
OG: The best go-to move? Probably Pascal.
RG: His spin move?
RG: It looks like you’ve been trying to add your own spin move.
RG: Okay. Next one. What would be the title of your biography? And who would write it?
OG: What would I call my biography?
RG: Yeah. And who would write it?
I can see him turning the question over in his beautiful mind.
OG: Umm. I don’t know. I can’t think of anything right now.
RG: That’s okay. I’ve come prepared. What about, I Don’t Shoot Trying to Miss?
Another hint of a smile. And a slight head nod. His emotions are running wild.
RG: Okay. So who would write it?
OG: I would write it. It’s my book.
RG: Okay, but if you had to pick someone else.
He fidgets in his chair, possibly buying some time to think.
OG: Um. Who wrote Jurassic Park?
RG: Michael Crichton?
OG: Yeah, him.
RG: Hmm. That might be a little too on the nose. I was thinking someone like Stephen King. Because you’re a little mysterious.
OG: Stephen King is cool.
RG: Well, that’s a ringing endorsement if I’ve ever heard one. Speaking of endorsements, how did you like shooting the car commercials with Powell?
OG: It was fun. There was always a ton of food and stuff. So that was cool.
RG: How’s Powell’s acting chops?
OG: Um. Not so good. I was better.
RG: You were actually pretty good. I’d say better than most athletes.
OG: I took an acting class. So I have history with acting.
Again, if he’s joking, no one would ever know.
RG: Well, it seemed like you were being yourself. Was it your first commercial?
OG: No. I did a Sprite ad with Delon.
RG: Oh, that’s right. I remember that. There’s a bit of a pattern here. You’re always challenging someone in your commercials. Why is that?
OG: I don’t know. I just do what they tell me.
RG: But you do a lot of ad-libbing, no? Pardon the pun.
RG: What’s something else you’d like to promote?
OG: Connect 4.
RG: Like the game Connect 4?
OG: Yeah. It’s fun.
RG: Okay. What actor would you want to star in a movie with?
OG: Um. I don’t like movies, so I wouldn’t know.
RG: Really? You don’t have a favourite actor?
He thinks for a second. Or at least I think he’s thinking. He just sits there, toque pulled down tight. Blinking eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses. He’d be the world’s greatest poker player.
OG: James Bond, maybe.
RG: That’s not really an actor. It’s a character.
OG: But I like James Bond.
RG: Okay. So which James Bond? He’s been played by like five or six actors.
OG: The British one.
I chuckle again. But OG, of course, stays in character.
RG: Speaking of Brits, who’s the best British-born NBA player?
OG: The best now?
RG: Of all time.
OG: Um. I’m probably the best. Yeah. I don’t know who else…Luol Deng?
RG: Let’s just go with you. What sport would you play if you didn’t play basketball?
OG: Like professionally?
RG: You mean American football or soccer?
OG: Soccer. But we call it football.
RG: We, as in the royal we?
I let the joke wash over him. If he got it, he isn’t letting on.
RG: Moving on. Let’s do a couple would-you-rathers.
OG: What do you mean?
RG: Basically, I’ll give you two scenarios and ask you, which would you rather do? Let’s start with an easy one. Would you rather wear a hoodie or a toque for the rest of your life? Or a beanie, I should say. You can only pick one.
OG: Which would I rather wear?
RG: Yeah. For the rest of your life.
OG: Like do I have to wear it all the time?
RG: No, not all the time. Like if you choose hoodie, you can never wear a beanie again.
OG: Do I get to choose the hoodie?
RG: Of course.
OG: I’d say hoodie.
RG: Would you rather be 2-feet tall, but still be able to jump high enough to dunk or be your current height, but you can’t even jump an inch off the ground?
OG: Can you repeat that?
RG: Sure. Would you rather be 2-feet tall, but you can dunk or be your height, but you can’t jump?
OG: Not even a little?
RG: No. Not at all.
He strokes his left arm.
OG: Um. My height, but can’t jump.
RG: That means you can’t dunk.
OG: Yeah. I’ll still be able shoot.
RG: Okay. One more. Would you rather be super strong, but super slow or be super fast, but super weak?
OG: Um. How slow?
RG: Like slowest in the NBA slow. You can’t keep up with anyone.
OG: Um. I’d say fast and weak.
RG: Why fast and weak?
OG: I can use my speed to cut to the basket, so…
The “so” just dangles there. I wait for more, but I guess this thought has come to its ultimate conclusion. And so too has this interview. I decide to wrap it up.
RG: Thanks for your time, OG. This was great. Just one last question. Do you think you guys will run it back next season with VanVleet and one or both of Ibaka and Gasol?
He shrugs his wide, hoodie-draped shoulders.
OG: I don’t know. That’s up to Masai and Bobby. I just do my job.
And he continues to get better at it every season.
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