Toronto Raptor Dalano Banton talks of his NBA rise and a new business venture
He's only been a member of the Toronto Raptors since July 2021, but hometown talent Dalano Banton has already captured the hearts and minds of basketball fans across the country with his on-court enthusiasm and off-court swagger.
Well into his first season after becoming the first-ever Canadian drafted by the Raptors when he was selected 46th overall in the 2021 draft, Banton is still finding himself, not just as a player, but as a community presence and brand.
The young talent — aged just 22 — may not be seeing as much time on the court as the more seasoned stars on the roster, but he's remained in the discussion with shining moments on the hardwood and a deep love of the Rexdale neighbourhood that shaped him.
During a recent road trip to Miami, blogTO got the chance to sit down (remotely) with Banton for a window into the Toronto-born player's local past, exciting present, and promising future.
Banton says he went into draft night with an open mind, knowing he could end up anywhere, and you could only imagine the surprise when his hometown team selected him in the second round.
"Going into the draft, you just kind of want to hear your name called regardless, but being from Toronto, I understood how the Raptors reach out to the community and how everyone feels a part of it," Banton recalls.
"So, to get drafted there, it was like dreams coming true. It's kind of surreal to make history and put on for my last name and my family and to be remembered."
On paper, his NBA career started that night, but this dream was forged into a reality on the courts of Rexdale. After draft night, Banton flew home to Toronto — now representing more than just the place he grew up — where he was welcomed back to his community of Rexdale with newfound fanfare.
"It was crazy, man," says Banton, glowing visibly from the memory. "I went to go see my family, and the whole community came up with them. When they see me, it was a lot of smiles. Growing up in a neighbourhood like Rexdale, it's great for people to see something positive coming out of the community. Everyone is rooting for you and wants you to do good and be successful."
Banton understands his role in the community has evolved since making it big, explaining the importance of "being a face for kids who believe they can make it."
When he was a young kid in Toronto, Banton may not have had a local talent to root for on the Raptors, but one player from that 2000s era roster stood out for his game and love of his adoptive hometown.
His Raptors role model was Chris Bosh. He tells blogTO that the former star and later NBA champion with Miami served as an inspiration not just on the court, but in the community. Banton says that Bosh "built a basketball court near my middle school Rockcliffe" and would go on to set the stage for players like Demar DeRozan to engage in Toronto communities.
Like every new Raptor, Banton has become familiar with the team's global ambassador and the city's most prominent recording artist, Drake. Banton sees at least one parallel in his and Drake's stories, which show kids from Toronto that it's never a bad idea to dream big.
"Whether you choose to pursue art or music or basketball, there are a lot of outlets in the city. It's showing that grind goes a long way," says Banton. "We have people that we can look up to in the city and see a blueprint of what you can do for yourself."
And that grind ethic is something Banton is showing off in his personal business ventures.
NBA players make a pretty penny for their work on the court — Banton is earning a rookie salary just shy of $1 million — but the potential to monetize their image offers players even more opportunities to rake in the bucks.
Many athletes follow the endorsement path, such as fellow Raptor OG Anunoby, who just inked a deal with Gatorade Canada, though Banton has taken a more novel approach to grow his brand.
Like many tech-savvy artists, investors, and public figures, Banton was drawn to the relatively new world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the latest crypto craze generating massive paychecks for some creators.
After witnessing the growing online buzz in recent months, Banton says, "I definitely wanted to learn more about NFTs," leading him to partner up with Cryptorontonians, a locally-based NFT project featuring Toronto-specific imagery.
Banton's contribution to the project's collection raccoon-themed bears his clear likeness, including his distinctive duster, which Cryptorontonians' Pedro Cadena states is a way for the player to "monetize his intellectual property."
Banton tells us, "at first, we had a bunch of designs — probably about 15 or 20 — that I looked through. And I kind of felt like I just wanted something that represents me just a little bit more."
Banton oversaw tweaks to the design, including the addition of his trademark slim stache, resulting in the Banton-ified raccoon NFT we see today.
But there's one aspect of the jersey that is notably different from Dalano's real-life threads. The #45 Banton wears on the court — representing the Kipling bus he grew up riding — is conspicuously absent, replaced by a number 6.
Explaining the altered jersey number, Banton tells us "when I was at [University of] Nebraska, 6 was one of my options, but in college, the refs have to be able to show your number using one hand [double-digit numbers are allowed if both digits require five or fewer fingers to call]," which inspired him to use the number 45.
With #6 being his original choice, Banton decided to mix things up for the NFT, saying "if I were ever to have to switch numbers, I would definitely pick number six for Toronto, for sure."
Looking to the future with a newfound understanding of the emerging crypto game, Dalano has expressed an interest in creating his own personal NFT project in the future, telling us, "I feel like it's kind of continuing to grow. As I learned more and continue to learn, NFTs have been interesting to me, as it's a fun way to build [your brand] and put together what you want in your own creative process."
"I still have a lot more to learn about it," says Banton, "but I'm definitely blessed and happy to be a part of the Toronto NFT community."
For a little more background on the project, Cryptorontonians' Cadena explains that "Cryptotorontonians is the first NFT project about Toronto. It's like a membership to learn about NFTs, presented as a collection of 6,555 digital raccoons — 3D characters living on the Ethereum blockchain — a tribute to the city of Toronto."
The mission is to push the Toronto NFT community forward, Cadena saying that his "ultimate goal would be educating everyone in Toronto about the benefits of this technology, which a lot of people talk about but don't understand."
After seeing other NBA players getting on the NFT train, Banton's manager connected him with Cadena, who says, "When I started talking to [Banton] about NFTs, I was telling him it's a way to claim your digital intellectual property."
"We're excited that Crytotorontonians is Dalano's first NFT," says Cadena. "The Toronto NFT community is thrilled to have Dalano as a member since it brings us a lot of awareness. A lot of people want to talk to us now because of Dalano and that's why now I'm working on trying to get someone even bigger, someone like a Drake."
It's a lofty goal, but like Dalano, always dream big.
Join the conversation Load comments