A requiem for Garbo: Five thoughts on Jorge Garbojosa

Jorge Garbojosa, Toronto Raptors

If you were watching the first game of the NBA season, you saw Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward go down with a horrific ankle injury. (If you weren’t watching, do not seek out the replay. You don’t want to see it.) As a Toronto Raptors fan, I was immediately taken back to 2007, when then-Raptors forward Jorge Garbojosa suffered the same injury, against the Celtics. I have a few thoughts on it:

1. 2006-2007 was a magical Raptors season.

That team might just be my favorite Raptors team ever. New GM Bryan Colangelo came in at the end of the previous season and managed to trade Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis, which essentially meant cap space (ed. note—realized later that it was Wayne Embry who actually made that trade), and Colangelo spent that cap space on a couple international players—Euroleague MVP Anthony Parker and Spanish forward Jorge Garbojosa—as well as Fred Jones, who he soon traded for Juan Dixon. He also drafted Andrea Bargnani and PJ Tucker, traded Charlie Villanueva for TJ Ford, traded Rafael Araujo for Kris Humphries, and traded Matt Bonner for Rasho Nesterovic. Chris Bosh, Morris Peterson, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon were the only relevant holdovers. It seemed like a mishmash of parts on paper, and no one expected the team to go anywhere—and after a 2-8 start it looked like another lost Raptors season. But then the team jelled, went 45-27 the rest of the way winning the division for the first time and returning to the playoffs after a five-year absence.

2. Jorge Garbojosa was a big part of the reason it worked.

He didn’t have a great jump shot, wasn’t a great athlete or jumper, wasn’t much of a ball handler or rebounder… but he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, especially on defense. He was just an incredibly smart, intuitive basketball player. You may not have wanted him taking the final shot in a close game, but you’d want him on the floor, because you could be confident that, no matter what happened, he’d make the right play. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28 minutes a night, and was named rookie of the month for December and eventually named to the all-rookie team.

3. But Garbojosa’s season was cut short in March of 2007.

The Raptors were in Boston, and were losing to the Celtics, trailing by nine with about 4.5 minutes left. Al Jefferson got the ball ahead on a breakaway, and went up to slam it home. Garbo went for the block. He fouled Jefferson, and ended up on the floor; I’ve never been sure if he landed on Jefferson’s foot or just fell awkwardly or slipped or what (and I can’t watch the replay). But, the end result was much like Hayward’s injury—his left foot was trapped beneath him and his entire body weight came down right on top of it. Like Hayward’s, his foot ended up pointing the wrong way.

4. I’ll always remember the screaming.

When Garbo went down, Jefferson turned to help him up, saw his foot, and immediately turned away—he couldn’t look. Around that time the pain must’ve hit Garbojosa, and he started screaming. “AAHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!” He was right under the hoop so the microphones under the rim picked it up clearly. “AAHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!” It was horrifying. The injury was eventually diagnosed as a fractured fibula, dislocated left ankle, and torn ligaments. He was done for the year, obviously; he came back the following season for a few games but was never the same, and was eventually cut.

5. The dream season ended too soon.

The Raptors made the playoffs as a top-3 seed without him (and Bargnani, who had his appendix removed) but lost to Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets in six games. You can’t help but wonder if the Raps would’ve won that series had Garbo been able to play. For one thing, the Raps came out nervous and anxious in game 1, and again in game 3 (first on the road); a veteran of the Euroleague and big-time international competition, Garbo wouldn’t have been bothered by any of that. The Raps got inconsistent play from Joey Graham at the SF spot through games 1-4 before going to Morris Peterson, but Garbo would’ve been the steady presence they needed there. He could’t physically keep up with Carter or Richard Jefferson, but I’m certain his basketball smarts and team defense would’ve made a big difference.

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Jorge Garbojosa’s time in Toronto ended acrimoniously; he wanted to play for Spain internationally, the Raptors wanted him to heal and rest. They bought out his contract so he could do what he wanted. He was named president of the Spanish basketball federation in 2016. But I’ll always wonder “what if” about that playoff series…!

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