Raptors head coach Rajakovic gives 'assist' to children's hospitals
Toronto Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic wants his players to be more than just role models on the court. He wants them to be good citizens, too.
Rajakovic and his wife Gaga pledged to donate US$20 for every assist the Raptors record this season, dating back to the opener. He announced on Wednesday that the final amount will be split between Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and a children’s hospital in Belgrade, Serbia.
"Assists are something that are important on the court but also off the court," said Rajakovic after practice at the OVO Athletic Centre. "When we’re in a position to help others, to help those in need, that’s our civic duty.
"We would just like to make a little contribution from our side."
That may be an understatement.
Toronto averages 29.6 assists per game this season, second most in the NBA. The Raptors are on a 27-game streak of 25 or more assists per game, the longest active streak in the NBA and the fourth longest in league history in a single season.
They have a total of 1,302 assists through 44 games so far this campaign.
Rajakovic said he had intended to make this donation from the start of the season but waited to announce it because the Raptors planned to visit Sick Kids' Hospital and Variety Village after practice on Wednesday.
He said it's "very important" for his players to understand how fortunate they are to be healthy and make their living playing basketball.
"We are blessed to be in this position that we are in, part of the NBA and that thank God we have good resources and are in a good position to use them," said Rajakovic. "It's our civic duty to to give back to the community, to give back to the less fortunate, and to help in any way possible on the court and off the court.
"On the court, players are such a huge inspiration for kids and for the community and then when that gets tied with work in the community that you're putting in that's the right thing to do."
Rajakovic said that he and his wife first visited St. Jude in Memphis when he was an assistant coach with the Grizzlies. He then took the Raptors to the hospital again when the team was in Memphis ahead of a 116-111 win over the Grizzlies.
"When we’re healthy, all of us, we have a thousand desires, a thousand things we’d like to happen. When you’re sick you have only one desire, to get healthy," said Rajakovic recalling the most recent visit to St. Jude's. "To see those families and those kids fighting so bravely and all the support staff is there for them, day in and day out, it’s something that’s very, very inspiring and it’s a great cause."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2024.