Pascal Siakam Toronto Raptors
© Charlie Lindsay / Red Bull Content Pool
Basketball

Pascal Siakam leaves a lasting legacy in Toronto

It takes a special person to leave behind an indelible impression on a city with such a passionate fanbase, but that's what Pascal Siakam has done in Toronto and his legacy will be long-lasting.
By Oren Weisfeld
9 min readPublished on
Pascal Siakam became a Toronto Raptor during the greatest era in franchise history. The self-described “scrawny kid” from Duala, Cameroon, was drafted 27th overall in 2016, squarely in the middle of a franchise-record seven-year playoff run that culminated in the Raptors first NBA Championship in 2019.
Siakam saw and did it all during his seven-and-a-half season tenure with the Raptors, going from a G League champion with the Raptors 905 in his rookie season to a key member of the bench mob during the 2017-18 campaign, when the Raptors won a franchise-record 59 games largely on the backs of the best (and youngest) bench in the NBA.
Siakam was extremely efficient that year, shooting a career-high 61.2 percent from two-point range, and he played just over 20 minutes a night before the Raptors were swept by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.
Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors

Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors

© Charlie Lindsay

But the NBA is all about opportunity, and Siakam got his when the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green that offseason. It ultimately led to a spot freeing up for Siakam to join the starting lineup ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.
That’s when Siakam’s career took off. His averages went from 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 20.7 minutes a game as a sophomore to 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31.9 minutes the next season. Siakam won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award helping the Raptors win 58 games.
Siakam’s growth came at a good time for the Raptors since they now had a clear-cut number-one option in Leonard, but also saw LeBron James move out West to join the Los Angeles Lakers. With the East now open and the Raptors as talented as ever, they stepped up and took their opportunity. They worked their way through the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks before setting up a matchup with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
In Game 1, Siakam came out and scored a team-high 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting, helping secure the win. In Game 6, with the Raptors up 109-108 and thirty seconds remaining, head coach Nick Nurse turned to Siakam to isolate against one of the greatest defenders of his generation: Draymond Green.
Siakam drove right, anticipated the dig from Green, gathered the ball directly into a euro-step and shot a runner that ended up swishing through the net, securing the Raptors their first championship in franchise history.
“Just the hard work and everything you put in, to be able to be here at this level and be able to win is a dream,” Siakam told the media after winning the championship. “And it feels amazing to be able to realize your dreams.”
It was the culmination of years of work and further evidence of who Siakam was. In essence, he’s the greatest development story in Raptors franchise history. But more than that, Siakam was a symbol of everything Toronto represents: a hard worker with a chip on his shoulder who was underrated and had something to prove, and an African migrant who found a home in one of the most diverse cities in the world.
“Toronto made me feel like I belonged from day one,” Siakam wrote in a recent Players’ Tribune article. “I loved the diversity — I’d go out and I’d see Cameroonians, Ghanaians, Mexicans, Koreans, Jamaicans, Europeans, just all types of people from all types of communities. It made me feel comfortable… it kind of let me take my guard down and be me.”
Siakam would go on to become a No. 1 scoring option for the Raptors once Leonard left for the Los Angeles Clippers that offseason, making two All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams. He would eventually cede many of those responsibilities to newcomer Scottie Barnes and he did it all with grace. He took pride in being the “guy who’s connecting the past and the future here, and keeping it all as one era,” as he put it in the article. He also added, “Maybe this sounds naive, but I felt I could be one of those dudes who spends his whole career on one team.”
But things can change. The Raptors traded Siakam to the Indiana Pacers on January 17th, marking an end to his Toronto tenure. After seven-and-a-half seasons as a Raptor, Siakam was the twelfth-longest tenured player in the entire league. He finished in the top five in franchise history in games, minutes, field goals, free throws, triple-doubles, rebounds, assists, and points.
“All-NBA, All-Star, all everything, championship,” Ujiri said about what he will remember from Siakam’s Raptors’ tenure after discovering him at a Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa in 2012. “And it's not stereotype championship of [an] African waving the flag on the bench. Scoring, contributing, doing everything that you can think of... Again, I say to you guys that that guy's success is my success, no matter where he is.”
“For me, as a kid, I didn't have the opportunity to dream about this moment,” Siakam said after winning the championship. “I didn't think this was possible as a kid and I think a lot of kids don't think that it’s possible and just me being able to be here today and telling them that ‘Hey, look at me, like, I was a little scrawny kid from Cameroon, Duala. And just I couldn't even think about this moment, but here [I am].'”
I just want to tell them that it's possible and that if you believe in something, go out there and work hard for it. Might sound cliche, but it's true. I'm the proof.
Siakam also gave back to the youth in his second home of Toronto, starting the PS43 Foundation in 2021, designed to empower Canadian youth through educational programs and scholarship opportunities. Despite moving to Indiana, Siakam plans on keeping the PS43 Foundation in Toronto indefinitely.
“When you look at a guy that has that kind of impact, that kind of capacity, in our league, it's something,” Ujiri said. “That's just who he is. That guy worked harder than everybody, came to practice before everybody, [and] left after everybody. No excuses.”
That work ethic rubbed off on Siakam’s teammates, too. Not only did guys like Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher, OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes create scholarships and basketball camps of their own shortly after the PS43 Foundation was created, but the work he put in on the court set a new standard for an organization in dire need of a culture-setter once veteran leader Kyle Lowry left for Miami in 2021.
“Everything he does and everything he showed was through his actions,” Gary Trent Jr. said. “Being the first one at the gym every single day in the morning, win, lose or draw he was there getting his work in, coming and being a professional, setting the tone, showing the ins and outs… He'll teach you how to be a professional.”
NBA star Pascal Siakam trains in Los Angeles during November of 2020.

Pascal Siakam is a one-of-a-kind NBA superstar story

© Charlie Lindsay/Red Bull Content Pool

“He meant a lot to me, he meant a lot to this organization,” Barnes said after the trade. “He’s been here his whole life. His whole career in the NBA. You know, that's really big for the organization. All the dedication, hard work, [and] effort he put in here. You know, he showed his love every single day. Came to the gym, every single day. Worked on his craft, worked on his game.”
It was also Siakam’s spirit that rubbed off on teammates. After overcoming a lot of tragedy in his life, from the sudden death of his father when he was in college to being the subject of online racism during the NBA Bubble, Siakam always managed to keep a great perspective on life and basketball, understanding that happiness comes not from the final result but the process of overcoming challenges.
“For me, it's a lot of ups and downs,” Siakam said about his first NBA Finals, but it might as well have been about his entire career. “And I think that's what makes the journey so exciting just because, you know, you're not at your best. You're not the best that you can be. I think for me, as a player, a young player just going out there every single day knowing that I'm nowhere [near] how good I can be, and it kind of gives me that opportunity to go out and learn every single day."
“I just have to have the confidence to go out there and be myself and play the game that I love, and I think everything will always be okay when I do that.”
Listen to Pascal Siakam speak about mental recovery on the Mind Set Win podcast:
Through his statistical achievements, accolades, work ethic, and philanthropy, Siakam inspired his teammates and showed them how to be professionals while remaining joyful in the harsh business that is the NBA. But more than that, he inspired a Canadian fanbase that was learning to love basketball at precisely the same time he was learning to master it.
As fortunate as he was to land in Toronto during the greatest run in franchise history, the Raptors are the ones who will be better off for having him.
“[I] watched him come every day, ready to work, show up, be happy. Just bring a joyful spirit every day to practice no matter, through the ups, through the downs,” Barnes said. “Just being able to talk to him through those down moments and him just being positive and just seeing him every day, you just develop that relationship. So, you know, what he meant to this organization? He loved it. And he came every day ready to work and continue to get better and just grow.”
But maybe Trent Jr. put it best, saying, “His impact on me, his impact on the team and organization, is gonna be here forever.”
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