Xavier Rathan-Mayes has had some big games at the NCAA level, he’s played in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies, he’s won a championship while playing overseas in Europe. These are all things he dreamed of growing up, things he either saw other athletes do or learned that he could do as his career path crystallized.

What he couldn’t even fathom was wearing the jersey of his hometown team at a professional level one day because that team never existed. But Canada is growing as a basketball nation, and the CEBL is creating opportunities that are representative of not only the present basketball landscape, but of what’s to come.

The Scarborough Shooting Stars are one of three expansion teams this season that take the league total to 10, and on Saturday night in front of just under 2,000 people that included Drake, Scottie Barnes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, GM of Canada Basketball Rowan Barrett, and former Team Canada women’s captain and Olympic flag bearer Miranda Ayim, they made a debut that will be remembered for reasons beyond the scoreline.

Drake sitting courtside at a Scarborough Shooting Stars' home opener
Image via Sid Naidu

“Special, special night,” Rathan-Mayes said after scoring 28 points in the Shooting Stars’ 84-69 loss. “To be able to come out here and do this in Scarborough for the first time, was definitely a special moment for us. Obviously disappointed that we couldn’t get it done but we’re thankful. For me, being a Scarborough kid, coming from the Scarborough YMCA, being able to go out here and represent a culture, being able to represent a whole group of guys that were watching on meant the world to me.

“We didn’t get it done but it made my heart happy being able to do that.”

With plans in place to overhaul the gymnasium area into a basketball hosting facility, organizers were able to transform the place in a matter of 12 hours. There was VIP seating for those interested as well as suite-style booths, and those who’ve made themselves part of Scarborough’s fabric could hardly go more than a couple faces before recognizing someone in a truly homely atmosphere. Food stalls had customary burgers and hot dogs but there was some local flavour added to the mix with beef patties available for purchase as well. The in-game music was on point throughout and naturally featured some J. Cole, who received warm ovations each time he checked into the game but finished with zero shots attempted in six minutes.

Scarborough Shooting Stars' banner at their home arena
Image via Sid Naidu

“I hope it gives them a chance and makes them realize there’s a lot of jobs and opportunities that can come out of basketball. You don’t necessarily have to be a basketball player; it gives them a look at basketball right in their backyard.” – Jamaal Magloire

Cole’s presence with the Shooting Stars isn’t about how many points he scores or how many minutes he plays. The added buzz that has surrounded this team has been tremendous, the CEBL is now in its fourth season but there are plenty of people now learning of the league’s presence and what it’s about with things like the Elam Ending because of his presence, and while there were some who may have shown up just to catch a glimpse of the rapper, it’s likely a fair share will come back for a fun atmosphere and a solid level of professional basketball. That’s worth its weight in gold.

J. Cole at Scarborough Shooting Stars home opener
Image via Sid Naidu

Once fans did take that first step inside the gym within the Pan Am Sports Centre and witnessed the massive message on the backdrop spread behind one baseline side, they learned all they needed to: “One time for the Ends.”

This Shooting Stars team is about representing The Ends to the fullest and creating memories that inspire the next generation. Rathan-Mayes remembers going to the Scarborough YMCA as a kid bright and early and seeing Shooting Stars vice president and senior advisor Jamaal Magloire in a full sweat practicing by himself, dunking, and yelling for anyone in the building to hear. Rathan-Mayes saw Magloire put in that work and blossom into a 12-year NBA veteran who made one All-Star appearance before going on to serve as a member of the Toronto Raptors’ coaching staff.

“To still be able to learn from somebody like that, very knowledgeable, is really, really special for myself,” Rathan-Mayes said. “It’s great that we can have guys that can come from Scarborough, come from Toronto, and have been there, done that. I think you get a great response from players when they look up to somebody that’s been on the level that they’re trying to get to and that’s really special.”

Drake wearing a J. Cole jersey at Scarborough Shooting Stars game
Image via Sid Naidu

The sense of home is impossible to take away whether it be the players, co-owners Niko Carino from OVO and local entrepreneur Sam Ibrahim, or Magloire who continues to live in Scarborough to this day. Magloire has wanted to see a team in Scarborough ever since he first learned of the CEBL taking shape. The 44-year old has experienced both the good and the bad of living in Scarborough and so hopes that the Shooting Stars help anyone who gives it a chance realize how much is possible in basketball beyond just putting the ball in the hoop.

“I hope it inspires them,” Magloire said. “I hope it gives them a chance and makes them realize there’s a lot of jobs and opportunities that can come out of basketball. You don’t necessarily have to be a basketball player; it gives them a look at basketball right in their backyard.”

J. Cole with the Scarborough Shooting Stars at their home opener
Image via Sid Naidu

Magloire also hopes to maximize the platform this team has and will continue to expand on. Engaging with the community is a priority, but so is being a bigger voice for the things Scarborough is in need of. Creating that bond is going to be an essential part of establishing a strong fan base and the fact that a local is doing so organically should allow for the process to transpire fairly quickly and seamlessly.

Nothing will strengthen that bond more than winning, and while it wasn’t the start the Shooting Stars wanted on their home floor, there will be no excuses for a franchise pursuing excellence.

“Just because we’re the new kid on the block, an expansion team, it doesn’t mean that we don’t believe we have an opportunity to win on a nightly basis,” Magloire said. “Our narrative is we’re gonna represent Scarborough in the best possible way. I grew up in this area, I know this town for being gritty, hungry, and a take-no-nonsense town.”