Drake & Toronto Raptors Announce Elevated Partnership to Give Back to the City, Will Host 6 'Welcome Toronto' Games

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Drake and Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri talk before the game against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 17, 2018 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

With the doors open and less than an hour before tip-off at the Toronto Raptors vs. Detroit Pistons basketball game Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, Drake and Raptors President Masai Ujiri held a press conference in the arena atrium to announce their $3 million (USD $2.4M) donation to help two basketball initiatives.

A million Canadian dollars will go to refurbishing 12 local community basketball courts over the next three years, while $2 million will go to the nearly century-old nonprofit federation Canada Basketball to develop the sport from the grassroots to pro.

The rapper, whom Ujiri introduced as “the King of Toronto,” became the Raptors’ global ambassador in 2013. Not only is he frequently seen courtside cheering on his beloved hometown team, but he's also brought his October’s Very Own brand prominently into the franchise with its gold and black color scheme and owl logo.

This “Welcome Toronto” project “is an immersive brand experience focused on art, community and ball,” according to the franchise, and includes six themed nights per year for the next three years, new OVO-edition uniforms and an OVO-designed black and gold home court -- but it’s the charity donation that makes it most important to Drake.

“It’s nice to have the uniforms and the fancy court and the merchandise and stuff like that, but what was most important to me was just the call to action,” Drake said. “In this day and age, it’s really easy to go on social media and talk about things that we’d like to see change or things that we think are wrong, then there’s an opportunity, when you’re presented with one, to be able to do something about it.

“The biggest thing I’m most proud of with this partnership is the million dollars that we’re going to be giving to the city to redo these courts and, hopefully, to create an amazing atmosphere for anyone in that community to come out and either play casual basketball or potentially breed the next generation of Canadian basketball superstars, which goes to our other donation of 2 million dollars to Canada Basketball who have produced incredible talent.”

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which owns the Raptors, is also involving its MLSE LaunchPad, a nonprofit 43,000-square-foot space in Toronto for “youth facing barriers to use sport to recognize and reach their potential.” One of Drake’s favorite nonprofits, the Remix Project -- which teaches kids from disadvantaged home lives or communities the recording arts -- is also onboard.

It’s not clear how the “arts” fits into Welcome Toronto and the donations, but The Remix Project does now offer a sports business program and has been involved with basketball initiatives and panels during Drake’s annual summer concert, OVO Fest.

“I grew up in Remix Project,” Drake said, responding to Billboard’s question about the music-focused nonprofit’s involvement. “It’s where I started making a lot of my early music, started really socializing with a lot of the kids there, where I pretty much shaped my career. It’s an amazing thing that’s formed in this city, and they’re an incredible partner to have, So Remix Project just plays an integral part in uplifting the city and giving kids opportunity.”

The Welcome Toronto OVO-Raptors partnership kicks off Jan. 26 against the Utah Jazz and Jan. 28 against the L.A. Lakers, for which the Raps will wear the new OVO uniforms and debut the home court. The other games are Feb. 2 (vs. Portland Trail Blazers), March 9 (vs. Houston Rockets), March 23 (vs. Brooklyn Nets) and April 6 (vs. Indiana Pacers).

Of the ever-growing and evolving OVO partnership with the Raptors, Drake said, “For me, initially, it was an incredible opportunity. Obviously, I wish I could be here all the time. I wish I could be here at every game, but my career unfortunately doesn’t allow that, but I think the key is to make my presence felt even when I can’t be here, and with things like this, and all the moves that we made over the past couple of weeks, I’m looking forward to continuing the path that we’re on.

“I feel like the growth is inevitable in this partnership," he said. "It’s something I’m still proud of and excited about and it’s something that still makes all other rappers jealous.”