Fortunately for Canada, Bob and Doug MacKenzie are just unofficial spokesmen. Their "Take off to the Great White North, eh?" schtick falls upon deaf ears in the National Basketball Association.

As evidenced by Damon Stoudamire's departure from Toronto and Kenny Anderson's subsequent refusal to report there, players aren't exactly eager to cross the border into hockey country. Word is, the taxes are terrible. And besides that, the league's northernmost outposts - Vancouver and Toronto - wear ugly uniforms. The only tradition they have is losing."I think everything is fairly new to everyone," said Sacramento forward Otis Thorpe, who spent the early part of this season in Vancouver. "I really think the NBA has benefited from it, but maybe not the players."

At All-Star Weekend in New York City, NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik addressed the situation.

"In terms of the tax structure and how that affects attracting players, our sense really is that has been somewhat exaggerated by people that have looked at that," Granik said. "The fact is even within the United States within certain areas, you pay more in local taxes. I've never seen it before referred to particularly as an impediment in acquiring players. In fact, some of the differences between states in the United States far exceed the differences between, say, New York and California, and the two Canadian teams."

In Ontario, taxable incomes exceeding $63,500 per year are taxed at a rate of 51.64 percent. California and New York, meanwhile, operate on a tax scale that extracts approximately 50 percent on annual incomes of $278,000 or greater. NBA players, thus, take the full hit wherever they reside.

Granik thinks education is the key to dealing with the Canadian tax issue.

"I believe that there are ways for American players playing in Canada not to have to pay taxes that necessarily exceed the taxes that some players who play in the higher-taxed U.S. states," he said.

Income tax rates are higher in Canada, but professional athletes are not taxed for work - such as games and practices - outside the country. That, in itself, reduces the tax burden. And if things were so bad in the first place, it can be argued, why have baseball's Toronto Blue Jays been so successful? They did, after all, acquire pitching great Roger Clemens.

"(Athletes) can achieve a pretty level playing field," Dennis McMullin, a tax partner at Deloitte & Touche in Winnipeg, told the Toronto Star. "You can get fairly close with advanced tax planning."

Jonathan Ruben, a Toronto accountant who advises professional athletes, agrees. He said if players negotiate a "retirement compensation arrangement" into their contracts, the tax sting can be reduced even more.

Thorpe acknowledged that most NBA players could use more information on such matters. However, he said, it can't be ignored that you're dealing with two different countries. That means two forms of money, lifestyles and taxes for American players competing for Canadian teams.

"Some players may be focused on taxes and other issues, but at the end of the day, players want to win," Grizzlies assistant general manager Noah Croom said. "When Toronto and Vancouver become successful, other issues won't be as important.

"They've heard about the taxes or the weather or the lifestyle, but they really don't know much about it," Croom told the Star. "A lot of their comments are made out of ignorance."

Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald said its time for the Canadian teams to go on the offensive. Presentations are being formed to educate prospective free agents and draftees on the benefits of playing in Canada.

"It's ludicrous some of the things we've been hearing about Toronto and the taxes," Raptors vice-president John Lashway said.