[written by Megan Ann Wilson (@shegotgame)]

Contrary to popular belief, Canada loves basketball. Toronto may be a Maple Leafs city but there’s a diehard basketball fan base, besides Drizzy. They do have an NBA team, remember. And high-calibre hoopers like Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Kris and Cory Joseph all call the 416 home. 

Despite the presence of the Raptors, there’s never been a sneaker store that catered to the basketball market. Enter the first ever House of Hoops in all of Canada. The new store is right downtown at 247 Yonge Street, opposite the Eaton Centre. House of Hoops Canada officially opened their doors on Friday March 8th, commemorating the launch with re-releases of eight classic sneakers including the black/red Jordan XIs and the Lightning IVs, and ending with the release of just 12 pairs of the LeBron X Corks. 

March 16th marked the official grand opening, as the store was graced by LeBron James himself. Not only was it first House of Hoops here but this is the first time King James has participated in a Nike event here in Canada. To commemorate the the event, four LeBron X colorways were re-released (Canary, Volt Dunkman, Christmas, Lava) on Saturday and the back section of the store was given a complete Nike Basketball makeover. Items from both his Nike Basketball and Nike Sportswear collections hung on the wall while lit-up shoe shelves housed a variety of colorways.

Local kids from the Harbourfront Community Centre were invited to sit and listen to their idol while a lucky few got to a chance to ask a question. Broadcaster (and former high school principal) Paul Jones engaged the youngsters and fans alike, flexing his sneaker knowledge, and local high school hooper Galio Fortunato was awarded the GAMECHANGER award along with a pair of Volt LeBron X from Nike. Jones also brought up the local EKIN (product ambassador) Josh Graham, to explain what it means to be an EKIN and to discuss the trivia and vision behind Nike designer Jason Petrie’s design of the LeBron X.

When James arrived, the crowds went crazy both inside and out. Chants of “MVP” (Rudy Gay, who?) were heard from outside the store and kids and parents lost their minds. Despite Toronto being home of the Raptors, there was nothing but love for the All-Star from Akron, Ohio. James came in wearing an “Earned Not Given” tee shirt, grey Nike sweatpants, the LeBron 8 PS in Solar Red and a black Audemars Piguet watch.

Since this was James’ first official Nike Basketball appearance in all of Canada, much of the interview was focused on getting to know the King’s background. James and Jones rapped about growing up in Akron, winning the championship and meeting President Obama, and his current season accomplishments.

Some of the biggest cheers came when James called Toronto native and current Cleveland Cavalier Tristan Thompson “his little brother” and discussed training with him. Growing up in Akron, LeBron mentioned he’s used to the cold and despite loving the Miami weather he would have stayed home and gone to The Ohio State University had he chosen to play college ball. A brief Dallas Cowboys chant even broke out when LeBron began discussing his love of American football (he was first-team All-State as a wide receiver in high school). 

His love of fashion was briefly touched on and he gave designer Jason Petrie all the credit for the X’s but couldn't pick a favorite colorway just yet. Despite being in Canada, one of the kids in attendance was sporting James’ No. 6 USA jersey. James took a moment to address the uniform and it was clear by the tone in his voice how much it meant to him, “it [the jersey] represents everyone who has fought for our country [...] I’m representing everyone that stands for the United States of America”. 

The best moments were when James let down his guard a bit and took questions from the kids. One child brought up the influence of his mother, who raised him on her own, “She’s everything [...] she made me [...] literally, but I never noticed what I didn’t have [...] I just try and give it back to her.” The young ballplayers all wanted to know how they can be just like King James, and he had some wise, thoughtful words for all ages in attendance:

“I could have been a statistic - when you grow up in an inner city, there’s not many exits, there's not many roads out...they automatically think you’re going to be a statistic and fail. I always told myself that if I ever got an opportunity [...] I would take advantage of it and make the most of it. Did I know that I would be up here inspiring kids all over the world and playing the game at the highest level? No. But I knew that I would be able to make an impact in something. I think the biggest advice I can give to kids, adults or whatever the case may be, is that when you find that niche, when you find whatever that is - you have to put the time into it. And when you put the time into, you know the saying is - hard work pays off, and it will pay off.”

House of Hoops Canada marks a good place for both locals and visitors alike to check out for kicks and gear. They have the biggest selection of Nike Elite and other socks in the city. There is Toronto-branded Nike gear, like the “416” basketball tee and the “Toronto Basketball Never Stops” version, both $31.99, printed on tagless Nike Sportswear tees. The House of Hoops also houses plenty of sneaker options for men, women and kids with brands outside of Nike being represented. The one Achilles heel of the store has to be the lack of women’s and kids clothing options and quickstrike releases not being available in GS sizes but, here’s hoping more comes in soon.

As of Saturday, there were still plenty of Durant and LeBron sneaker models in stock but be warned - Canadian retail is often inflated by upwards of $50 plus a 13% sales tax. So if you’re in Toronto shopping for the US, prepare for the sticker shock - but you’ll at least save a bit over the resellers.