As we continue our Fan Favourites Week, we take a look at Jorge Garbajosa, a key figure in the Toronto Raptors recovery from Vince Carter.
Something that is amazing about modern sports, despite athletes becoming faster, stronger, and more intense, they are somehow recovering from injuries better than every before. Paul George made a full recovery. DeMarcus Cousins may not have returned at quite the same level, but has quickly made it back on the court after a torn Achilles. There are plenty more examples of players returning faster than we think they should. This was not the case even 10 years ago, which is evident through Toronto Raptors fan favorite: Jorge Garbajosa.
Garbajosa (known with his time as the Raptors as ‘the garbage man’) joined the Raptors at an interesting time. The franchise was still reeling from the fallout of the Vince Carter trade, even though they were realizing they had a face to build around in Chris Bosh.
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General manager Bryan Colangelo and assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini decided that the best way to acquire talent was through Europe, and the team’s best path to building a contender was to start building a team of top European talent around Bosh. One of those pieces was Jose Garbajosa.
Garbajosa was top-end Euro league talent. Prominently featured in Italy, he averaged 13.8 points and 6.7 rebounds on route to winning multiple Italian National Cups, Super Cups, and Italian League championships. Given his rising star, he moved to the Spanish league (arguably where the best Euro stars play) and played with Unicaja, winning the Spanish League Championship and Spanish Cup. He was MVP of both leagues.
Garbajosa was a trailblazing player given his style. A power forward with both range and size, he was able to shoot the three and stretch the floor (which would be instrumental in helping a player like Chris Bosh, who had not yet added the three-pointer to his game). Thinking ahead of where basketball was at the time, the Toronto Raptors felt that Garbajosa was a prominent piece to the puzzle. They signed him to a three-year, 12 million dollar deal on July 24, 2006.
This move proved to be successful for the identity-less Raptors, and the 2006-2007 season was a watershed season for the franchise. It was a season which allowed the team to take their first step towards relevancy. Relevancy which culminated in the championship season this year.
In the 06-07 season the Toronto Raptors clinched their first Atlantic division banner, finished with the best seed in franchise history, and made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
With the additions of Jorge Garbajosa, Anthony Parker, and T.J. Ford, the Toronto Raptors had a core that proved to be successful. The reason Garbajosa is so beloved is that his efforts lead to the turnaround for the team that year.
His tough-minded defensive play and attitude were infectious to the team and after a horrible start to the season at 2-8, they quickly turned it around. His hybrid power forward play brought a new dimension to the team, turning Chris Bosh into a true All-Star along the way.
The reason he is beloved is more baked in “what if?” scenarios. What would have happened if he never had that gruesome broken fibula and displaced ankle injury? Could the Raptors have gotten past the New Jersey Nets in round one of the 2007 playoffs? Would his continued leadership have helped the team in the following seasons?
Fans were just getting to know Garbajosa before he was forced back to Europe. While not the most hyped player to ever enter the Toronto Raptors organization, his hype was justified. If it weren’t for his injury, Garbajosa would have likely been a consistent important piece of the Raptors.
This was not an out of college rookie, but an NBA rookie with 10 years of grind-it-out basketball under his belt. Fans were able to see that on the court through his toughness, tenacity, and a quiet, assassin like personality.
He also did not carry the baggage or care about the legacy of wearing the number 15 for the Toronto Raptor. This may have helped in a healing process of Toronto beginning to forgive Vince Carter. He wore it proud and wore it well. He averaged 8.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, on a 42-percent field goal percentage a 34-percent three-point percentage.
On March 26, 2007, Jorge suffered one of the more gruesome leg injuries in NBA history trying to block Al Jefferson. He was carried off on a stretcher, missed the entire 2007 playoff run, and only played seven more games for the Raptors, before returning to Europe where he could never find his true form again. His career ended and he became President of Spanish Basketball Federation. However, he’ll always remain a Raptor fan favorite.