Still, the man who once stood at a fork in the road when it came time to make a career choice — basketball coach or secret service agent — has both a soft spot for and a great knowledge of the Raptors.
His father, Brendan, was the Raptors’ first head coach back in the 1995-96 season. Michael was an assistant coach at Providence University at that time but was able to spend some significant moments with his dad and that Raptors squad.
Twenty-one seasons later, some of them feeling much longer than others, the Raptors are the second-best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and are hosting their first-ever all-star game. To top it off, their starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both playing in the game Feb. 14.
“They’ve come a long way in so many areas,” Malone said Monday. “I can remember my father as the first coach in Raptor history trying to educate the fans but also the media. A lot of the guys that covered the Raptors at the time really weren’t (knowledgeable) so he would have sessions after practice with the media talking just about the game of basketball.”
Malone has a litany of stories and he’s happy to share them. There was the Raptors’ win over the New Jersey Nets in their first game on Nov. 3, 1995. There was the time that Tracy Murray was shooting free throws at the Skydome and Raptors fans sat under the basket waving their thundersticks, unaware that they were supposed to be a distraction for visiting players.
There was a spring game in that 22-win season when he was able to get up to Toronto to see 36,000 people sit in the Skydome to watch the Raptors hand the 72-win Chicago Bulls team one of its 10 losses.
“We lost that year in the NIT, so I drove up to Toronto with my girlfriend, who is now my wife,” he said of the banner win of that season. “It was a great trip and they beat the Bulls at home. The fans didn’t know what to do. They wouldn’t leave and they were going crazy, like, ‘Now what?’ ”
When he’s at the Air Canada Centre for Raptors games now, as he was in November when his Nuggets took their first of two wins against them this season, Malone sees a franchise and a fan base that’s all grown up.
“The fans are great. They’re into it and it’s a tough place to play at all times,” he said. “What is always going to be a hockey town, they’ve done a great job of supporting the Raptors. (Denver) is a football town and that’s what we’re trying, to get our fans to support us and come back to us lately and they are, they’ve been a lot better. But the fans up there are terrific.”