“We notorious,” goes the opening line in the Rascalz’ 1998 CanCon classic “Northern Touch.” Two decades later, that statement rings especially true for Canada. Whether it be the top of the Billboard charts or the sports world, the Great White North has found a new gear, producing more world-famous talent at a higher rate than ever. So we’re capturing a few of those rising stars before they go supernova. This is Northern Clutch.
For Oshae Brissett, timing is everything.
Last summer, while departing Las Vegas after a stint with the Los Angeles Clippers at the 2019 Summer League, the Toronto native found the threads of his life colliding with the team he grew up watching. “I was actually on a plane with the Raptors’ coaching staff,” he recalled. Thanks to a fluky flight schedule, Brissett wound up hitting it off with some of the Raptors personnel during the short trip. “We got through customs and coach Nurse was right in front of me; he turned around and he was talking to me. When I got to my car, I heard someone say, ‘We’re gonna call your agent tomorrow.’”
Turns out whoever said that wasn’t bullshitting. “The next morning, my agent called me and said we were gonna sign with the Raptors,” Brissett said.
The 22-year-old didn’t know this when we caught up with him at a Raptors 905 practice earlier this year, but just months later, the Time Gods would have his back yet again: Brissett became a first-time father in May, with the NBA season on hold and the world on lockdown. The timing, in an crazy way, was ideal—he was free to pay undivided attention to his newborn daughter, with no games to run to.
It’s been a year of bizarrely fortuitous moments for Brissett. Thanks to an injury-plagued Raptors roster, he's been force-fed more NBA minutes this season than the typical rookie on a two-way deal. And he hasn’t let a single minute go to waste—the six-foot-seven forward has emerged as a reliable role player for the Raps, providing remarkable on-ball defense, rebounding over larger players, and throwing down put-back dunks. In a limited amount of time, he’s proven himself to be a tenacious, tireless transition threat who can find the basket and be a thorn in the side of opponents. “Coming out of school, we were not sure how long his transition would take to being an NBA defender,” said Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela. “He has the body and the smarts for it but sometimes it takes a while to learn to guard as a pro. He’s figured it out quickly.”
With the NBA season now returning, Oshae's got an opportunity to help the Raptors defend their title and prove himself a valuable piece of the squad. He's ready to show up for his team and his city—and given the extra time he's had to refine his perimeter game, he may just arrive right on time (as per usual).
Check the latest episode of Northern Clutch with Brissett above, and then scroll through for our chat with him on the Raptors direspect in the NBA, why Canadian ballers have chips on their shoulders, and his fantasy of winning a title for his city.
So, you grew up in Toronto. Do you have any favourite spots in the city?
Yeah, I was born in Toronto. I lived at Jane and Finch for a while. And then me, my mom, and my brother, we moved to Mississauga, and then my sister was born. So we all lived in Mississauga for a very long time. And we moved out of Mississauga to Pickering, like six or seven years ago. But I don't go out anywhere, honestly. You know, if I'm not at the gym, I'm at home, just me and my girlfriend. Or I'll go to my grandma's house in Brampton or chill with my mom all the way in Pickering.
Were you a big Raptors fan growing up?
Yeah, I watched a lot of games. I don't really remember much, honestly. Like I feel there's just little things that I remember about basketball when I was younger, watching the NBA. One of those things that sticks out to me right now is Dwayne Wade—he was my favorite player. So I remember his whole run in '06 when they won. I remember the last game I was watching with my grandfather in Jamaica, actually; I was watching on TV when they beat Dallas. I remember that whole game.
When you first put on a Raptors jersey, what did that feel like, being from the city?
It was crazy. Media day, I walked into the locker room at Scotiabank [Arena] and I saw my jersey hanging there. I just couldn't believe it. I took probably 30 pictures of the same jersey. It was wild, man. Every time I put the jersey on, every time I look at it, it's wild. It doesn't even make sense. It still doesn't make sense to me that I'm playing for the Raptors.
"I think of myself, Fred, and Pascal on the cover of SLAM magazine after we win the chip. I think about it all the time."
There are key guys on the Raptors squad like Pascal and Fred who got their start on the Raptors 905, just like you. Does that motivate you?
Yeah, those guys are the definition of professionals. They take care of their bodies every day. We have off days, but obviously rookies and younger guys who don't really play have to come in and get shots up, and those guys are still there. You know, they're getting their shots up, getting their treatment. So there's really no reason for a guy like myself to look at that text that it's an off day and just try to sit home. If our stars and All-Stars are in the gym every day working, then why can't I be? You know, I'm trying to get to where they're at. But the fact that those guys were here playing in the 905 and they went on to win a chip, that gives me more motivation. It lets me know that it's not impossible to be in that position, as long as I do what I got to do.
It makes it seem like something within reach.
Yeah! You know, and that's kind of where I'm at with younger kids from Mississauga and from Toronto. Now I'm playing to let them know that it's not out of reach. They can be in my position, or even somewhere higher, if they put in the same work.
Obviously, you watched the Raptors win their first championship last year, which was inspiring to a lot of kids in the city. What was it like to actually join the team after watching that?
You've just got to keep the same mentality. You know, you join a team, a championship team, and you've got to watch how they work and how they carry themselves. You've just got to take a little piece of that and add it to yourself and try to build on that. You know, obviously, they know what it takes. Playoffs, that's a long time; it's games back-to-back, all over the place, traveling and stuff. So they know exactly what it takes to be in that environment. So I watch those guys probably more than they know. I try to see how they how they act off the court and the things that they do and I try to put that into my daily routine because I want to be in their position. I want to win championships. So I've got to really follow their lead.
Do you ever think of the possibility of helping the Raptors repeat? And what that would be like?
Uh, yeah. All the time. [Laughs.] I think about it. Obviously, everyone's dream is to win a chip. But, you know, I think about it, being a key guy. You know, being on the starting lineup with those guys and just winning a chip. Stuff like that. Again, that's where I want to get to.
What does it look like when you envision it?
Every time I think of it, I think of myself, Fred, and Pascal on the cover of SLAM magazine after we win the chip. I think about it all the time. I don't know why. Just us three on the cover and we've got rings on our fingers. They've got two, I got one. [Laughs.]
"We know what a lot of people say. We take that and use it as fuel to go out there and just try to kill everybody."
There's been a lot of talk about the disrespect the Raptors have received this year from the league and the media. Despite being the champs, they're ranked super low in the power rankings and in championship predictions. I feel like you'd have a unique lens on that, being from Toronto.
Yeah. You know, I saw a lot of those lists at the start of the season and we were finishing eighth or below that and, you know, we're second in the East right now. So the thing is, we know that on the team; we know the disrespect that we get. And it makes us want to go out there and win even more. We want to win more than every team that we play. So that's why we're doing so well right now. And we're gonna keep it going. You know, I feel like it's league-wide: We go into an arena and no one really respects us. I mean, there's Toronto fans everywhere, but around the league, the analysts and the people who talk on TV, they don't respect us. But we know that. So we go in there every game just trying to win.
Have you noticed a lot of the guys in in the locker room have a chip on their shoulder because of the disrespect?
Yeah. You know, those guys are super locked-in, every game. Even if some games we start off slow, we go back into the locker room, regroup, and come out the same team that we were, you know, when we were in the playoffs and won the championship. So we just try to keep that same mentality every game.
What are your thoughts on all the Canadians around the league making names for themselves. Do you think the perception of Canadians in the NBA is changing?
One person that is not getting enough publicity and love is Dillon Brooks. Every time I check his stats or watch his games, he's got 27, 30 points. He's doing his thing out there. I remember when we were at Philly, that guy used to wake up every day at 6 and go shoot, go work out. So, you know, that's the kind of mentality that all the Canadians across the league have. We want to be the best, because, again, we know the stigma that Canadians are always second in basketball and USA is number one. So every Canadian across the league is trying their best. Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] right now is playing amazing; Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] is coming out and he's going to get more minutes, he's gonna do what he's gotta do. Brandon Clarke, he's playing outstanding right now. So there's a whole bunch of guys right now that are just doing their thing because, again, we know what a lot of people say. We take that and use it as fuel to go out there and just try to kill everybody.
Now that Raptors have a championship, do you see perception of Canadians in the league changing?
They still think the same thing. You know, they think Kawhi was the reason why we won. I mean, that's why we're getting doubts now, because he's not with us. But again, we hear that, and we get in the gym, work, and we go out there and prove them wrong. So that's what we got to do every time.
Realistically, how far do you think you guys can go this season?
The Raptors? We can go all the way! You know, everyone's focused, everyone's locked-in. Once everyone's healthy we're really, really hard to beat. And a lot of teams really take it for granted. But the players in the leaugue know once they come out and they get held to zero points; a lot of them score a lot lower than their average [against us] because of the things that we do. We're able to score so easy on the other end. The players know, the teams know. So we can go all the way.
What's something people might not know about you?
I love movies, so I'll say that. I watch movies over and over again. I've watched Endgame probably seven times, and every other Marvel movie at least three-plus times. So yeah, I'm a big, big superhero fan. Big Marvel fan.
Who's your favourite superhero?
I don't know! I think it's something that I remember: It was one Christmas. I was like 12. That's when Spiderman 3 came out, so they had the black Spider-Man and they had this action figure for him; he had all the moveable joints, he could move his fingers, all of that. I wanted it so bad. And I asked my mom for it for Christmas, but she said she couldn't find it. And then I came down Christmas morning and I was walking around and I saw something hanging on the wall. It was a toy. It was that Spider-Man toy! I liked Spider-Man before that, but that was just crazy. So ever since then, I've watched every Spider-Man movie. I watched the origial trilogy, The Amazing Spider-Man, the one that just came out, Far From Home. I can recite all the words in that movie. I've watched it that many times.
Do you model your game after Spider-Man?
Nah. [Laughs.] But if I were to be a superhero, it'd be him. If something were to go down, he'd be the one to save us all.