The Fearless Patrick Patterson

On the verge of a potentially career-defining season, we step into the lair of Toronto Raptor Patrick Patterson to see what life is like on top of the city.

Patrick Patterson roars into the jaws of a quivering raptor skull. His mouth is opened wide, teeth bared. His eyes: sharp and blazing. His eyebrows arch like the trajectory of a floating three-point shot. The Toronto Raptors power forward is a looming figure at six-nine and this primal glare makes him all the more intimidating. He notices the replica fossil shaking and his mood softens, a smile emerges. “Muscles flaring?” he asks as he reaches over to give my strained biceps a playful squeeze.

Patterson’s sitting in front of the living room window of his Trump Residences Toronto suite as the sun paints a warm silhouette around his massive frame. Save for his patterned aqua socks, he’s head-to-toe in a retro-modern all-black ensemble — zipper sneakers, pressed slacks, unadorned turtleneck — like some giant ninja readying for a night out on the town. The ethereal beats of Bryson Tiller’s “502 Come Up” bump from a portable speaker on his blond hardwood floor, Tiller singing “Askin’ myself, how did I get here this morning?” I’m starting to wonder the same thing myself.

We’d noticed the faux fossil unboxed earlier and thought it would be a fun prop. I offered to hold it up. Maybe get him to roar like he is on the cover of the Toronto Raptors program that’s sitting on the glass desk nearby. But after a few minutes of watching my marathon isometric exercise, Patterson seems more amused than ferocious.

It’s the first moment Patterson has dropped his business-like formality during our photo shoot, letting his practical-joker side out, even just for a second. Not that he’s an overly serious guy. He’s relaxed and accommodating, with more of a nonchalant confidence, like he’s cool if we’re here, cool if we’re not — whatever. He’s been in the spotlight ever since he was a teenager, when he led West Virginia’s Huntington High School to three straight state championships. Screaming at a skull for a handful of media is a walk in the park for this guy.

It’s a crisp Saturday morning in September, a day so clear you can easily survey the breadth of Toronto from Patterson’s kitchen window. Summer break is behind him and the 2015-16 NBA season just around the corner. It’s an important year for Patterson, one he’s hoping will be career-defining. In a few days, he’ll be boarding a plane for Vancouver with his teammates for training camp before the real work of the season begins. It’s a trip he’s eager to make, for more reasons than one.

Honestly, I love basketball. But my other passion after that is travelling

“Honestly, I love basketball. But my other passion after that is travelling,” he says, noting how he spent time in Turkey and Croatia this summer. Vancouver is one of his favourite North American cities. It’s clean, fancy, high-tech, reminds him a little of Tokyo. He loves how in the morning you can head up to the mountains and hike or ski and then head down to the water to fish or go boating in the afternoon. “I just love that whole set-up.”

Extracurriculars aside, there’s also a fresh excitement around the team. There are new faces, like Luis Scola and DeMarre Carroll, new uniforms and even a new scoreboard. “New everything,” Patterson says. The Raptors are coming off a season that saw a team record 49 wins and a second straight Atlantic Division title. While there’s no doubt that things are still a work in progress, that everyone — the team, management, fans — is hungry to push past the first round of the playoffs, there’s an eagerness to get things going.

“Everyone is real hyped, really excited, real anxious to get going to Vancouver with all our teammates and learning the new plays, new system, developing that camaraderie and chemistry and getting stronger with each other on the court,” Patterson says, now leaning against the granite countertop in his kitchen. “It’s just going to be real fun.”

For Patterson, the new season also means a chance to step up. When asked about his aspirations for the 2015-16 campaign, he says, without hesitation, “My personal expectations for this season would be to become starting power forward and be in the three-point shooting contest during All-Star Weekend.” Lofty goals. But there’s an unflinching conviction in the words that makes it clear he believes it will happen, that he isn’t afraid of the challenge.

And it’s not just the quantifiables he’s focusing on either. On top of improving his shooting, being more aggressive on the court and a stronger rebounder, he explains, “fans can expect me to be one of the leaders on the Toronto Raptors.” This might be difficult to do on a team where all-stars like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are front and centre. But Patterson’s stepped into a leadership role in the past, both at Huntington and at the University of Kentucky, where in his junior year he helped the team become a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With this being his sixth season in the NBA, he really does want it to be a pivotal one.

When I shared this proclamation with Dwane Casey, the Raptors head coach felt Patterson has the capacity. “First of all, he’s a smart man. He’s a well-rounded man. It’s not just basketball. He’s smart off the floor, away from basketball,” Casey says. Patterson’s also a self-made player who reinvented himself as a three-point shooter when he entered the pros. “Everything he’s done, he’s made himself into a top-notch NBA player.”

Casey explains that during preseason Patterson has already stepped up to help his new teammates adjust to the Raptors’ system. He’s even offering instruction to players who he’s competing against for a starting spot, like Scola. “He’ll tell any player on the court that listens what they should be doing on a play,” Casey adds. “He could be selfish and say, ‘Hey, look, I’m not going to tell you. You figure it out yourself.’ But being the guy he is, he’ll be a leader by telling them what to do.”

Patterson has always been mature for his age. Even as a young child, the 26-year-old showed an intellectual spark well beyond his years. He grew up as an only child in Huntington, W.Va., with his mother, Tywanna, a studious city girl from Washington, D.C., and his father, Buster, a country boy from Rock Hill, S.C. Education, discipline and family were priorities in the Patterson household. Buster, who served in the navy for 20 years, enforced a strict curfew. “It didn’t matter if you were in the 12th grade, you still had to be in the house at a certain time. You couldn’t be out in the street,” remembers Tywanna.

A natural athlete with the height to dominate, Patterson picked up sports quickly, excelling at soccer, football and of course basketball. On the hard court, his dad would teach him the fundamentals through some father-son one-on-one. “They would go at it,” Tywanna says. “I think maybe my husband was more competitive. If Patrick would beat him they’d have to do it again.” One time they were at the Y for well over an hour with no signs of stopping. Patrick, as it were, kept winning. “I said, ‘Patrick, can you please let your dad win one game so we can go home?’ That’s how competitive they were.”

But his connection to the sport started far earlier than that. It was March 15, 1989, the day after Patterson was born. Tywanna had just laid down her new baby boy when in walks Buster. “I’m thinking my husband is going to give me some candy or flowers or balloons. He comes in with this big old basketball,” she recalls with a chuckle. In a prophetic gesture, Buster placed the ball at the head of the bed, right next to little Patrick. When she questioned her husband as to why he brought a basketball for a newborn, he responded: “‘Well, I want to introduce my son to the world of basketball.’”

Patterson would turn national heads with his high school play and he entertained offers from a slew of top-tier schools, including the University of Virginia, University of Florida and Duke University. But, after much soul searching, he would eventually commit to Kentucky in 2007, “which is by far the mecca of college basketball,” Patterson says. While many up-and-coming prospects often make the jump to the pros after freshman year, Patterson opted to spend three years in college to earn his degree in communications. “It was a tough decision to make,” Patterson explains, acknowledging that forgoing the NBA draft meant his personal stock could take a hit. But his parents’ words proved true: “If they want you now they’ll want you later.”

Houston used its 14th overall pick to select Patterson in the 2010 NBA draft. He gradually carved a spot out on the Rockets roster, but 2013 would prove nomadic for Patterson. He was dealt to Sacramento in February in a six-player swing before becoming a piece of the seven-player move that sent him, Greivis Vásquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes to Toronto for Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.

The trade to Toronto was unbalancing. “The first thing that came to my mind was, I’m leaving the country, I’m going to somewhere that’s completely foreign to me, and the only thing I knew about Toronto was it’s in Canada and it’s freezing cold,” he explains. Because of Sacramento’s warm California weather, the heaviest piece of clothing Patterson owned was a fleece jacket. As his plane descended into Toronto, all he could see was snow. “From the ground to the water, the buildings, the trees, just everything completely covered in white,” Patterson recalls. “And I thought, ‘Man, what did I get myself into?’”

But as he acclimatized to his new surroundings, discovering what the city had to offer, his disposition warmed. To top it all off, the Raptors caught fire. “We ended up winning the Atlantic Division. We made it to the playoffs. Although we lost in the first round, I felt like we had a successful year,” he explains. “And I’m like, ‘You know what? I want to be here.’”

So too did the fans. “One of the things I love the best is when I meet fans, die-hard hockey fans, die-hard baseball fans, who are like, ‘You know what? You have converted me to a basketball fan,’” Patterson says. Being the only basketball team in the country can be a surreal feeling, he adds. “You have the entire country of people encouraging you, pushing you. Sometimes you feel like their vision of you is far bigger than how you view yourself.”

Patterson proved a potent weapon as a stretch four off the bench for the Raptors. His acute basketball IQ allows him to find open space and nail clutch threes — a trait he models after the legendary Robert Horry, a.k.a. “Big Shot Rob.” It added depth to the team’s offence, helping propel them to their first playoffs in six seasons. The Raptors rewarded Patterson with a three-year, $18-million deal in July 2014.

I’m very thankful for what I have in this world, but when I watch a movie I like to live in someone else’s shoes

Patterson found a permanent home in the Trump, where he employed the services of Jaclyn Genovese of Spaces by Jacflash to design the space. You can see a modern woman’s touch in the seamless eclecticism, between the classy glass shelves, mirrored coffee table and tasteful old-world decorations, such as an interesting steam-punk-esque lamp. But there’s also plenty of nods to Patterson’s individuality: a marquee 54, his number, welcoming you in his suite’s vestibule; a sign that reads “Patterson Way”; a large “P” hanging behind his couch. And you can’t miss the stacked boxes of his “infinite amount of shoes,” including his favourite pair of black-and-red Fieg x Buscemi 110MM, decorating his bedroom wall and lining his elongated walk-in closet. “I find that my lifestyle has improved since I now have an organized closet,” he says about his now colour-co-ordinated clothing, thanks to Genovese. But the most interesting piece has to be the graffiti-like paintings of the Looney Tunes and Freddy Krueger, two of his fictional faves.

“I’m big on memorabilia,” he adds as we talk about the various items adorning his home. Shelves by his kitchen table are stuffed with autographed items, including a Mike Tyson boxing glove and Ray Lewis’ helmet from Super Bowl XXXV. There’s also a basketball covered in signatures from the likes of Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose from the 2007 McDonald’s All-American Game Patterson played in. “That basketball, it should go in a case,” he says with a sly smile.

In Toronto, he’s found his culinary inclinations satisfied, noting Khao San Road, Lee and Valdez as some favourites. But he also found a haven for one of his biggest loves: film. “I’m constantly going to Dundas Square, to the Cineplex. I’m always in the movies, always watching movies,” he says. What he loves about film is the escapism. “I love my life. I’m very thankful for what I have in this world, but when I watch a movie I like to live in someone else’s shoes.” Everyone needs a break once in awhile, after all. “Even Obama needs a break,” he quips.

It was his parents who instilled this love for the big screen. They’d regularly take him to the movies, often once a week. But it was the King of Pop who was the real hook. “It wasn’t even a movie. It was a music video, ‘Thriller,’” he says of the Michael Jackson classic. As Patterson watched the zombie horde on the screen, he freaked. “I just ran and hid in my closet. I didn’t even finish the whole video,” he adds. It made him a horror fanatic with a taste for Wes Craven. His favourite film is A Nightmare on Elm Street and he even boasts an original black-and-white copy of Night of the Living Dead. This fall he was even CBC Toronto’s TIFF correspondent, where he saw about 18 or 19 films.

As our time starts to wind down, we talk about the upcoming season and the changing perception toward the Raptors. Ever since the Vince Carter era came to an end in December 2004, Toronto became more of a speed bump for playoff contenders. But with the success of the last two seasons, Patterson feels the city is finally getting the respect it deserves. “I feel like people are starting to wise up about us. People aren’t taking us for granted, people aren’t taking us lightly,” he says. “They know that when they play us, they’re up against a tough opponent.”

It’s clear that family is immensely important to Patterson, too, as he talks about regularly texting his parents, checking in, seeing how they’re doing. Every year, for one game in Washington and Charlotte, Patterson and his parents rent a suite and invite family from each side — Tywanna’s from D.C. and Buster’s from North and South Carolina — to see a game and hang out with Patterson.

When I ask if he’ll be flying in his parents for the home opener in Toronto, he explains that they’ll definitely be in attendance. “I’m an only child, so they want to be here as much as possible,” he says, adding they’ll often come up even when he’s not here. “Throughout the season, they’ll come up and stay with me for two or three weeks just because they love it out here.”

And that’s the message he has for all the Americans that view Toronto as a frozen wasteland, as he once did. “Everyone I talk to now, they’re like, ‘Toronto’s cold. Toronto’s this. Toronto’s that.’ I’m like, ‘You know what? Just come out for a week. Come out here for a week and stay with me and I’ll show around, and you’ll never want to leave.’”

It seems like you could say the same for Patterson.

photo by farzam hosseindoust
photo provided by spaces by jacflash

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