Previously we evaluated Toronto Raptors as an organization to understand the root cause of the perpetuating mediocrity from which the franchise is suffering. We concluded that the problem of the Raptors Organization is systemic and threefold. Our first analysis focused on the Shifting the Burden archetype. Today, we are going to continue from where we left off and focused on another archetype: Escalation.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
As powerful as it might be, Shifting the Burden is not the only demon, with which Toronto Raptors are dealing. The organization has a secondary systemic problem, and it is called the “Escalation archetype.” According to William Braun, the Escalation archetype occurs when one party’s actions are perceived by another party to be a threat, and the second party responds in a similar manner, further increasing the threat. Since the two parties’ actions are self-reinforcing and self-motivating, mutually threatening actions grow exponentially over time. The best-known example of the Escalation archetype is the nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR that took place during the Cold War. Every time the USSR built a nuclear warhead, the US built two, which forced the US to built more.
If it gets out of control, the Escalation archetype could lead to doomsday. That said, escalation is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be used to increase healthy competition. As long as it is kept under control, this systemic behaviour could promote progress.
The pattern of the Escalation archetype is fairly straightforward and predictable. The actions (and reactions) of each party are similar in nature, though they become increasingly competitive as time goes by. You might be surprised to hear that at the heart of a healthy rivalry lies the Escalation archetype. The best-known business example of productive escalation is the Coke-Pepsi case. Instead of trying to annihilate each other, these two companies continually raised the bar and ended up dominating the global market. How does this relate to the Raptors?
When we look at the narrative of Toronto Raptors as an organization, we realize that there is no antagonist. There is not a worthy villain. During its two decades of existence, the Raptors never had a bona fide rival. Right now, no other franchise is forcing the Raptors to raise its bar. Unfortunately, that’s a systemic problem.
When it comes to rivalries, we can talk about three types: First, there are historical rivalries that lead to greatness like the Lakers vs. the Celtics. For instance, when the Celtics assembled its Big Three, it was the Escalation archetype that forced the Lakers to trade for Pau Gasol. A historical rival is something that the Raptors Organization is missing dearly.
Second, there are geographic rivalries like Texas rivalries. Back in the day, when the Grizzlies were located in Vancouver, Toronto Raptors used to have a Canadian rival. Sadly, that rivalry ended prematurely leaving the Raptors Canada’s team by default, not by merit. If -and that’s a big if- the Raptors could create a rallying cry against American teams, then a geographic rivalry might kick in.
Finally, there are in-city rivalries. The City of Boston is a case in point. Every franchise must fight for the support of Bostonians, for attention and passion are a limited resource. Whenever the Red Sox or the Bruins up their game, the Celtics feel the pressure to catch up, which is a healthy effect of the Escalation archetype. It is not a stretch to say that any organization operating in a competitive market needs to tap into the Escalation archetype to be successful.
Going back to Toronto Raptors, the franchise is in desperate need of a worthy instigator. Whom could that be? Since no NBA franchise is planning to move back to Canada, it cannot be another national NBA team. The Raptors will stay as Canada’s team, a situation which offers a chance to start a geographical rivalry. However, for the Escalation archetype to work, both parties should see each other as a threat. That is currently not the case. For instance, during the Garnett era, the Raptors fans had a beef with the Celtics. Yet, Bostonians never perceived the Raptors as a legitimate rival. Moreover, one cannot just pick a rival. The narrative needs to develop organically, over time. Alas, it does not look likely that any geographical rivalry would be emerging any time soon -unless the Raptors play into the Canadian vs. US narrative. Until that happens, Toronto Raptors has only one option: Instigating an in-city rivalry.
In an ideal world, the Raptors should fight for the attention and love of Torontonians. The franchise should feel some pain when it is mediocre. The success of other Toronto-based franchises should raise the bar for the Raptors. However, there are no Toronto-based rivalries, for we do not live in an ideal world. The apparent instigator could be Toronto Maple Leafs. Should those two decide to go on an arms race, both of them could rise above mediocrity. But here is the problem: Both franchises belong to the same group: MLSE. While owning major franchises creates corporate synergy for MLSE, it kills a potential in-city rivalry, which could lift all boats. That is a major systemic problem with which the Raptors Organization to deal. They must find an instigator -whether geographic or local- that would keep them up on their toes all the time. Unfortunately, there’s nobody that fits the bill right now.
Our next article will look at the third system archetype, which contributes to the extended mediocrity of Toronto Raptors: Eroding Goals.
What do you think? Is it beneficial for the Raptors to have an arch-rival? Who could play the role of the antagonist? Fire up your comments.
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