June 6, 2019
Raptors' run a slam dunk for Seneca grads
Statistician and creator of We The North enjoy playoff ride
The Toronto Raptors are in the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history, and a couple of Seneca grads have been right there with them long before Kawhi Leonard’s now-infamous buzzer beater and the now-iconic We The North branding.
Karl Toulouse, who came to Seneca to study computer graphics in 1989, has one of the best seats in any Raptors games at Scotiabank Arena. That’s because the statistician for the Raptors is one of two computer operators in a five-person crew at the scores table at every home game, recording everything from the number of turnovers, rebounds and assists to who takes the shot from where. He can be spotted on TV sitting in second row, centre line, with Drake just five seats to his right. It’s a part-time gig, sure, but Toulouse has had this gig for as long as there has been a Raptors basketball team in town.
Toulouse credits his statistics career with the Raptors to none other than the former Seneca Braves varsity basketball program. Prior to Seneca, he had played basketball at Sault College for two years. Upon coming to Seneca, he tried out for the men’s basketball team but didn’t make the cut.
“I approached Ernie Armstrong, who was head coach at the time, and I said I really needed to part of the team in some capacity,” Toulouse recalled. “He said, ‘Have you thought of statistics?’”
From there, Toulouse began doing home games with the men’s program, eventually going on road trips with the team to Ontario Colleges Athletic Association games. Between 1989 and 1995, he worked part time to record stats for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Seneca (while working full time at IBM between 1991 and 1996).
“It was a lot of fun. They were really great people. Without Ernie, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today,” Toulouse said. “He got my foot in the door and he played such a huge role in the part.”
In fact, in 1991, when the NBA exhibition game took place at the Maple Leaf Gardens, Armstrong, who served as Seneca’s athletics director from 1987 to 1995, was the one who called on Toulouse.
“He says, ‘The NBA needs a statistician. Would you be interested.’ I’m like, ‘Duh,’” Toulouse said.
Again, during the May long weekend in 1995, when an NBA free-agent camp was hosted at Newnham Campus to start a basketball team in Toronto, it was Armstrong who, with his extensive network of connections, asked Toulouse if he was interested in recording stats.
“I’m like, ‘Duh,’” Toulouse said.
Since 2005, Toulouse has been based in London, Ont., where he’s also a statistician for the London Lightning of the National Basketball League of Canada. In addition to making the two-hour commute to Toronto whenever the Raptors play at home, Toulouse had the opportunity in 2007 to travel with the team to Italy, where they played an exhibition game against the Boston Celtics.
When asked about Raptors’ chances in the NBA finals, Toulouse mused over Golden State Warriors’ deep bench.
“There’s a reason why that team is the reigning NBA champion and why they’ve been in the finals in back-to-back years,” he said. “But the Raptors have a perfectly good chance. They’ve exceeded everybody’s expectations. It’s really amazing to see the engagement from the entire city and beyond. It’s larger than life.”
We The North
It’s a three-word rally cry chanted by 20,000 Raptors fans at Scotiabank Arena and Jurassic Park: We The North. And one Seneca grad was there when the brand was no more than just a vision that existed in people’s heads.
Tom Koukodimos, who graduated from Seneca’s Graphic Design program about 20 years ago, is Co-managing Partner of Sid Lee Toronto, the creative agency that developed the We The North branding for the Raptors in 2014. In a recent interview with Strategy, Koukodimos recalled the challenge of turning a hockey nation into a basketball fandom.
“We weren’t just branding the Raptors, we were branding Canadian basketball,” he said in the interview.
According to Sid Lee’s website, the campaign was created to “unite people around a mindset and pride of place.” In fact, Sid Lee boasts that We The North isn’t a campaign, “but an example of how an identity-shaping truth can spark a brand crusade.”