Vinay Menon: Raptors announcer Jack Armstrong deserves an Order of Canada

Vinay Menon: Raptors announcer Jack Armstrong deserves an Order of Canada
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If Jack Armstrong gets tired of working as a Raptors announcer, he could make a fortune as a motivational speaker, a pitchman, a life coach or even a hypnotist.

As a general rule, I try to avoid gushing praise in this space. Does anyone really want to read 800 words on my undying love for Lana Del Ray or why the Keg is the greatest restaurant in history? No way. But in advance of Thursday’s Game 6 , I must break this general rule to specifically salute Mr. Armstrong.

One of the things diehard fans overlook when a city – or in this case, a country – climbs aboard the bandwagon during an epochal playoff run is that we newbies are in a strange land dictated by a language and customs that can be puzzling.

In the paint? On the glass? In the cylinder? From the field?

Do you kids see this field they speak of? All I see is a wooden floor.

In addition to Jurassic Park for the diehards, there should also be a Cretaceous Square for the johnny-come-latelies to go ask questions: “Yes, I was wondering, why are free throws sometimes one, two or three? What’s a trey? An Alley-oop? Could you please tell me what is meant by, ‘The Board Man Gets Paid?’”

And is this Board Man also the Fun Guy?

I’m not kidding, it took at least three games before I noticed the shot clock.

But during this flashpoint of hoops hoopla, TSN’s Armstrong has emerged as a beloved tour guide on the Raps bandwagon. His analysis feels like a Rosetta Stone that is helping me learn the game in a way I never could on my own. His insights are front-loaded with the folksy charms of an everyman and, yet, the insights of “The Coach,” his past vocation and current nickname.

Then there is his bonkers enthusiasm, which is more contagious than cholera and more joyous than Christmas morning. When his raspy Brooklyn lilt redlines into a sonic range usually reserved for an auctioneer wired on Dexedrine, Armstrong’s reaction to a dazzling play is often as dazzling as the play itself.

If this guy opened a car wash, I’d throw mud on my SUV every weekend just to go hear his signature lines. When I greet my cat in the morning, I now say, “Helllooooo!” When I wheeled out the bins on Wednesday morning for collection day, I looked up at the squawking robins in my pear tree and bellowed, “Get that garbage outta here!”

I didn’t know Armstrong teamed up with the City of Toronto last year to film an ad in which his delightful catchphrase for an epic shot block was turned into a PSA on the importance of not mixing trash with the recyclables. Perfect. If you ask me, “Get that garbage outta here!” should be Ontario’s new licence plate slogan.

Come on, Doug Ford, it’s so much catchier than, “A Place to Grow.”

At this point, you diehards are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “What is this fool babbling on about today? Jack’s been around forever. This is old news. What’s he going to write about tomorrow? Joe Bowen and Holy Mackinaw? Buck Martinez and Swing and a Drive?’”

I take your point. But as a newbie inside the Raps’ magic factory who is on pins and needles before Game 6, I make no apologies for loving Armstrong’s sage and soothing presence as the NBA Finals proceed, hopefully, toward Toronto glory.

And it’s not just him. Sports media on TV in this country do not get enough credit for the riches of talent in front of and behind the cameras. Ron MacLean is a national treasure. James Duthie could host a yard sale and make it intriguing. And how great is Raptors’ play-by-play man Matt Devlin and the shout-outs he gives to random places on the Canadian map when a local hero nails a bucket from long range: “Kyle Lowry from Pond Inlet!”

A supercut of all the places Devlin has name-checked could be the most electric Heritage Minutes video ever produced. That’s the ultimate irony: a game invented by a Canadian and now dominated by Americans has finally united its country of origin. It’s as if Greece suddenly discovered the deliciousness of olives.

Armstrong, an American who commutes from his home in Lewiston, New York, seems to have a Maple Leaf tattooed on his heart. His soul is Canadian. We should change the qualifying rules because right now nobody is more deserving of the Order of Canada. The father of three adopted sons has adopted this city as his spiritual home and all Raps fans, diehards and newbies, are the beneficiaries.
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