The Scottish heart beneath the surface of American major leagues
The Scotiabank Arena is currently the site of some of the most fluid and exciting basketball in all of North America. It is home to the Toronto Raptors and since the start of this National Basketball Association calendar, its lights have illuminated the exploits of some the world’s most elite hardwood athletes. Perennial All-Star Kyle Lowry enters his 7th season with Canada’s sole NBA representative without his superstar backcourt partner of Demar DeRozan. He was lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a trade that saw the man with arguably the soundest fundamentals in all of professional basketball move to the North. Kawhi Leonard is the antithesis of DeRozan, the man he replaces. Critics would say his play verges on boring and the fact that he barely had any game time last year made the loss of one of Toronto’s adopted sons slightly more of a concern. Leonard is a genuine two-way star though and he has blossomed during his so far short spell in Ontario. A move that the Raptors’ front office took all amount of flak for has been rewarded no end. Currently, the Raptors have the best record in the world’s best league.
The front office has been vindicated. For now. They will take a back seat until this summer and the lottery of free agency. Instead, it is now the backroom staff who the focus turns to. The GM might be able to bring in a new star but that addition is no use if they are perpetually injured, as Leonard was last year. Teams invest huge lump sums into physiotherapy and sports science in some attempt to ensure that their players are left undamaged over the course of an undulating and unforgiving 82 game regular season. The man in charge of this in Toronto is Alex McKechnie. He is as Glaswegian as they come and he’s been given the keys to Toronto’s playing squad.
McKechnie was born in Glasgow and grew up in the expansion scheme of Easterhouse. He developed an interest in physiotherapy after some of his family members were involved in car crashes. He briefly attended the Leeds School of Physiotherapy before hopping over the Atlantic in the 1970s where he has remained ever since. It wasn’t until 1997, where after working at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver as Head Physiotherapist, (he specialised in groin injuries) that McKechnie was called by the Los Angeles Lakers to try and help them with their new superstar signing Shaquille O’Neal. He had an abdominal tear, far outside the remit of Alex’s adductors. However, so impressed were the Lakers by McKechnie’s work with O’Neal that he was asked by the franchise to be the centre’s personal physio. He was given a full-time gig not long after that and would go on to work with future MVP Kobe Bryant as well as stars Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry. McKechnie landed on his feet, joining the Lakers in the Phil Jackson eras. They won NBA Championships in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
McKechnie is only one of a minor contingent flying the saltire across the pond. There are many more plying their trade over the Atlantic and not all of them reside on the fringes of the squad. Some, like Lawrence Tynes, are in the trenches. Tynes recently retired from American Football but not before he could prize two Superbowl rings, each time from Tom Brady and his near-perfect Patriots, on the squad of the New York Giants. Playing a vital part on the Giants’ warpath to the 2008 Superbowl, Tynes made the longest field-goal ever by a visiting kicker at Lambeau Field, the notorious home of the Green Bay Packers. This would provide the game-winning points for the Giants in what was legendary quarterback Brett Favre’s last game for the Pack. They went on to halt the Brady Bunch in their quest to beat every team laid out in front of them. All of this achieved by a boy from Greenock.
However, it’s our football where we seem to be making the biggest impact at this point in time. Soccer, as it was always going to be. Johnny Russell is not a trend-setter. Jimmy Gallagher repped the Saltire in North American "soccer" leagues in the 1920s and like his predecessor, Russell is doing his best to improve American-Scots relations. Russell travelled across the Atlantic with very little shortage of pedigree. He was a cut above the league he was stationed in at Dundee United. He was more than that in fact, he was imperious. As a Terrors man, I watched him enough at Tannadice. Moving to Derby, he garnered a reputation for nicking crucial goals and given that he’d frequently run himself into the ground for the sake of the greater good, he quickly earned cult status in the Midlands. It certainly raised a few eyebrows when the move to Sporting Kansas City was announced but in truth, this was something that should never have been in doubt. That cult status has followed him, simply exploding upon arrival in Kansas. Russell has gone from likeable Scot in England to an elite level player, albeit in America. This is nothing to be scoffed at though. Some of the Glaswegian’s exploits in front of goal have been examples of rude and arrogant form. From his first in Chicago to the solo wonder goal in Los Angeles and the hat-trick against Vancouver, Russell’s goals helped SKC all the way to the Western Conference Final this year. Although their progress was stopped by the Portland Timbers, Russell has been nothing short of a revelation in the MLS this season. From ‘Russellmania’ tifos and a young fan literally getting the shirt off Johnny’s back, his goals and his demeanour make him hot property and someone that Kansas City will want to hold on to badly. We need to tell you to watch this space. Russell is only 28 and he’s got his eye in now. The Saltire in Sporting KC might just be starting.