The Toronto Raptors took their place in sports history by becoming the first Canadian based team to win the NBA Championship. Raptor fever swept the nation as they marched over Philadelphia, Milwaukee and finally the defending champions Golden State…and the entire nation was captivated. They went from Toronto’s team to Canada’s team. Jurassic Park style viewing areas formed across the country as the nation held it’s collective breath as the last seconds of Game 6 (which took about 20 minutes), then cheered from coast to coast to coast. All of Canada taking in the post game celebrations and days later the seemingly never ending parade and celebration through downtown Toronto. A moment we will never forget…..and all of Canada was on this giant bandwagon.
Even those of us here in Vancouver…and, quite frankly, I’m surprised.
Sometimes the easiest way you can get someone from Vancouver not to like something is to tell them it’s from Toronto, especially if it involves a sports team. Any mention of the Blue Jays as ‘Canada’s team’ is met with eye rolls and looks of disdain from many residents here. I hear constant complaints about the Toronto-centric coverage on both of the country’s sports networks, as some nights you have to wait for Canucks highlights while they thoroughly discuss what went on with the Maple Leafs that day…even longer on days they’re playing. Not to mention the fact that our NBA experience didn’t go so well. While quite a few fans would love to see the league return to Vancouver, it left even more with a bad taste in the mouth that they still can’t wash out. Other memories faded with time. For the rest, the Grizzles were a team they look up online. So as the Raptors success and the hype grew, my initial reaction to everyone supporting ‘Canada’s team’ was skeptical. It would be a tough sell out here. I mean, even Raptors International ambassador and head cheerleader Drake got kicked out of a casino here!
But I was wrong. More than that, I was surprised just how much Vancouver bought into Raptor mania. Soon I was seeing more We The North hats, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry jerseys than Canucks gear. We started calling ourselves the No Fun City again because there were no Jurassic Park style viewing events permitted….another thing that didn’t go so well the last time we did that. Despite that, however, there was no denying Raptor fever and this time we went all in. Bars were packed…living rooms and basements erupted in cheers and for the past few days I’ve seen more basketball being played in the street than road hockey. This year, the Stanley Cup playoffs were just there. Chants of ‘Lets Go Raptors ‘ and ‘We The North’ could be heard from time to time. And this time, it seemed ok. Why not? Now, even though Toronto is my birthplace, I never had an emotional connection to them. My experience was with the Grizzlies and, through all their management blunders and ambivalent players, I enjoyed them while they were here. The only Toronto sports team I still have an emotional connection to is the Blue Jays. But I too tip my hat to the Raptors. They showed great skill and tenacity which endeared them to everyone who watched. True, if it weren’t for Kawhi Leonard, we would not have been watching 8 hours of parade coverage across the country. But this was team to be remembered, much like the Jays back to back World Series in the early nineties. And who knows…maybe the NBA will return to Vancouver one day. If it does, I think it would work out a little better this time.
But just one other thing intrigues me……if things worked out differently and it was the Raptors that left after only 6 years, the Grizzlies stayed in Vancouver and went on to become NBA champions…would we have become Canada’s Team? Would they have covered the victory parade on national television? Would everyone in Toronto be chanting ‘We The Coast!’ ?
I guess we’ll have to find out.