The Toronto Raptors made me fall in love with basketball.
Sure, I watched Michael Jordan as a kid, and owned a Chicago Bulls Starter jacket, because who didn’t? But it wasn’t until Toronto got its own team that I truly embraced the game.
I was living in Ottawa at the time, and got my first taste of the Raptors on a Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, when my dad took me to see Damon Stoudamire and crew take on the New York Knicks in an exhibition game.
Cut to going nuts watching Vince’s dunk competition in one of my oldest friend’s basements, going to college in Toronto and regularly spending whatever loose cash I had on Sprite Zone tickets with my two best buds, making sure I secured the communal TV for Sunday afternoon games on CTV, taping up countless newspaper clippings outside my dorm room on the Wall of Vince, getting so pumped when the drop in centre we volunteered at let us use their season tickets, and finally getting to witness live playoff basketball and seeing them win Game 3 against the Detroit Pistons in 2002.
I’ll admit I haven’t watched as faithfully as I did back then – as life got busier, my main sports viewing was focused on the Boston Bruins. I’ve still kept up with the team, suffering through playoff heartbreaks through the Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan eras, even attending one of the disappointing playoff losses at the hands of the Washington Wizards a few years back. It was awesome back at theScore, getting caught up in the rabid passion and knowledge of many who worked there. So was gathering at our church to watch Game 7 against the Miami Heat when the Raptors first advanced to the Conference finals.
All of it had culminated in seemingly inevitable sadness, but this year, things felt different.
Mostly because of this guy.
Last night, some family gathered at the Albion Hotel here in downtown Guelph for my mother in law’s 60th birthday party, near the end of which I snuck downstairs to watch Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
By the time we left, the Raptors were down by 5 and things were looking not awesome.
Cut again to returning home (with a few ciders now in my belly). Toronto went on a crazy run, highlighted by the dunk above. I literally had my shirt off and was waving it over my head in our living room, and teared up when the game was over and the Raptors had clinched a berth in the NBA Finals.
Some will say it’s just an Eastern Conference championship, and the job’s not finished, and maybe won’t get done considering the opposition – the Golden State Warriors, who are in search of a threepeat.
The thing is, who cares? This straight up doesn’t happen up here, and Kawhi Leanord and Kyle Lowry have given us much more than a moment to remember.
I got texts and was tagged in Insta stories by some of my oldest and dearest friends, and was flooded with memories of good times past.
At its best, sports is about community; they bring people together.
Thank you for this, Raptors.