Culture of Hoops

Toronto Raptors: It’s so hard to say goodbye; it’s even harder to say hello

Image courtesy of Matthew Addie/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Matthew Addie/Flickr.

Normally in these pieces that I write up on this fine website, I write (well, try to anyways) about what a team does, how they’re fostering success and some of the weakness that every team inevitably has even when they’re accumulating success. It could be about whether it’s sustainable or just a mirage, perhaps backing that up with historical data or simply seeing whether there’s a large R2 correlation. It usually involves screenshots, videos, charts, and me talking about the said tools, devoid of emotion yet wanting to amount to any sort of respectable journalism. In a normal world, this would be another one of those pieces where I tell you how the Brooklyn Nets bottled up everything possible from the perimeter and the refereeing made the game choppy, and perhaps that’s the post that should be done, but I’m not too sure that’s something that I feel like doing right now.

It’s pretty weird that this piece is devolving into something not of the analytical variety and more so of the human element, something that I quite frankly am not experienced with nor am comfortable with. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t short-circuited like a robot. The Toronto Raptors lost a Game 7 on their home court to the Brooklyn Nets. Numerous teams have done this in NBA history. Hell, Brooklyn lost a Game 7 to Nate Robinson and a one-legged Joakim Noah. There’s no shame in it, with the wealth of resources that the Nets put in last offseason and Toronto becoming the loveable team that could after the Rudy Gay trade. The series itself was a clashing of ideologies and a chance to resurrect one of the most rabid fan bases in the NBA. It was theater to which even Shakespeare would nod in approval.

So why am I wanting so badly to spill my emotions onto my laptop monitor and force it to become coherent words? I don’t know and yet I feel compelled to try my hardest in doing so. We were allowed to choose here on BMF as writers which series to cover and I picked Brooklyn and Toronto. There were a number of reasons: their contrasting styles of play, the way some media in Toronto hyped up the inferiority complex in terms of what the NBA wants, the Raptors trying to stamp a flag for basketball in Canada while its upcoming national TV package for the NHL was for $5.2 billion dollars, and much more. But perhaps the biggest reason was something that I tried to fight off: I used to be a Raptors fan. I guess a better a description is I used to be a Raptors fan and I deserted my team.

I lived in Toronto for the first 12 years of my life and never cared much about basketball from around 2002 to 2006. I cared much more about hockey despite the fact that I couldn’t skate. But I always made time to watch a Raptors game here and there, keep as up to date as possible on the team, and watch highlights of games I couldn’t catch. I remember Morris Peterson’s wild layup while having his headband over his eyes. I remember Vince Carter’s game winner against Toronto. I even remember Donyell Marshall’s 12 three-pointers against Philadelphia. I was a Raptors fan and I was proud of it.

Then I moved to Edmonton and within a year gave up my Raptors allegiance. I’m not sure why I did but it happened, and, until recently, for over seven years I stood as somewhat of a basketball nomad, without a team to call his own. It still is a pretty apt description though the Raps did a really good job in trying to suck me back in. I can’t tell you how much I smiled when I heard the Air Canada Center sing “O Canada” to start every home game. Maple Leafs Square turned into Jurassic Park, filled to its capacity with rabid fans who smelled blood. Even Masai Ujiri telling Brooklyn to go f*** itself made me laugh uncontrollably. The atmosphere whether outside the arena or inside dwarfed anything that happened in the library known as Barclays Center.

I tried checking myself numerous times not knowing why, but I couldn’t help but dole out a fist pump when Lowry nailed this impossible floating three in Game 5:

From then on, I was slowly morphing back into the fold. The memories of my childhood (well what I can remember of it) returning and me having some semblance of a rooting interest for the team. It felt good, real good actually. I was moaning after every questionable call, every wild foray to the rim by the likes of DeRozan, Lowry, and Ross. I was wishing that a higher power would give John Salmons the ability to be competent on offense. I was a fan again. So as Lowry bumped into Patterson and got his shot blocked by Paul Pierce, I was predictably upset and saddened by the reality of Toronto sports: things always go bad when hope is high.

But I shook it off quicker than I anticipated and started muttering to myself “My god, they’ve done it. They’ve sucked me back in.” The “We the North” campaign, having a likeable team that symbolized every Toronto sports narrative imaginable, the crowd chanting as Game 7 ended. It’s been a masterstroke in trying to rebuild a franchise that, until the Rudy Gay deal, was floundering without an identity to hold on to. Losing Game 7 was obviously crushing, especially having led 3-2 in the series and home court advantage. But it was magical, inspiring, and every buzzword that is usable. It was a revitalization of one of the best fan bases in North America for any sport, letting their voice be heard and endearing themselves to our neighbors south of the border. It was a landmark moment for a franchise that has had few to hold its hat on.

There are actually multiple winners in all of this. The Brooklyn Nets are one of them, who get to defend their 4-0 regular season record against Miami while giving Paul Pierce and KG one more chance to drive LeBron crazy. The Raptors are one of them for some of the reasons mentioned above. And the NBA is another winner, because having a good Toronto Raptors team brings only good things for the sport. I myself am a winner too, if only because I can say the following words with as much conviction as ever:


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