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Even Canadian Pizza Can Be Its Own Reward

photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images; art by Dan McQuade/Defector

The Toronto Raptors have been in a relatively hellish place this year—too far from a happy lottery pick to tank aggressively, but never quite close enough to the play-in games to have irrational dreams of a successful playoff run.

In fact, until Monday night, they hadn't won three games in succession, a dubious honor shared only by Detroit, San Antonio and Washington. By beating the weirdo Indiana Pacers on the road, the Raps won self-respect, the happy illusion of momentum, and dreams of the day when they can get this level of endorsement from the SCTV equivalent of Tracy Morgan.

Instead, they got the profoundly more plebeian promise of pizza and bizarrely, given the prevailing narrative of player greed and lack of motivation issuing forth from the All-Star Game, they seemed oddly happy with it.

Or, to quote Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic, "I told them that when we won three straight I'd take them to dinner," Rajakovic explained outside a joyous locker room, before adding a classic sheetjerk: "But I told them this team's so humble, we could have pizza."

Under normal circumstances, this would have caused a player revolt followed by a press conference in which the Raptors thanked Rajakovic for his efforts but that the team needed to go in a different direction. But the players, giddy with the metrics of pepperoni-per-point, celebrated anyway, chanting "pizza" in the locker room. Not because they necessarily like pizza, or enjoy the notion that winning 38 percent of their games can be metrically linked to pizza and nothing more, or even that pizza helps a body recover sufficiently to win a fourth consecutive game or, deities forbid, a fifth.

But Rajakovic has worked a neat trick, one which coaches have understood for decades: players will eat nearly anything as long as it is constructed as a reward, at least for awhile. Rajakovic can only play the Chuck E. Cheese card (or, as a nod to our Canadian compatriots and their skill in cleverly naming restaurant chains, Pizza Pizza) once. Everything after this requires actual silverware and cloth napkins you can't take home with you.

And maybe this is the solution to the All-Star DGAF scandal, that the answer to fixing the game's obvious issue isn't in paying the best players, but in having a game in which the winners are happy with slices. It's hard to see how any network would want to pay for that, or that any pizza chain would sponsor the game to such an extent that team owners would be happy with the rights payment, but the alternative is no game at all; just a week off for everyone after 70 percent of the season to clear heads and prep for the playoff race. And even at that, the week off has actually made most players and coaches crankier and more ready to start a fight, so that clearly is another misconception about the modern sports worker.

So what the hell, why not pizza, even Canadian pizza? I mean, it's not like having the ninth pick in the draft does the players any good.

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