The Toronto Raptors are the 2019 NBA champions! For many Torontonians and Canadians, this is hard to believe. Since they joined the NBA 24 years ago, the Raptors have had more lows than highs. But for me—and I think lots of kids around my age—I expected this!
I’ve grown up in a Raptors household and have gone to games for as long as I can remember. My first favourite Raptor was the mascot, and I went to games not to see them win, but for the atmosphere and fun of being at a game. When I really started paying attention to how the Raptors did and caring whether they won or lost, they usually won. They’ve made the playoffs every year since I was eight, and despite losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers three straight years in the playoffs, I always thought Toronto would get here. Especially with LeBron moving West!
But for many fans older than I am, the Finals victory was hard to believe. The Raptors came to Toronto when my dad, Brad, was in University, and they instantly became his team. But it took some time for the team to have success. The best players didn’t want to come to Toronto; playing North of the border was an unknown to a lot of them.
With time this changed, and some success came with it, but with only one trip to a conference finals in their history, getting to the NBA Finals seemed like a dream. When the Raptors knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks to reach the Finals, my dad (below) cried. After 24 years he couldn’t believe they had finally made it, and as he said, whether they won or lost the Finals didn’t matter; they had gotten there, and it was a huge moment for the team, the city, and the country. He said I would soon see why
If you didn't already know, the Raptors are the only NBA team in Canada. Located in Toronto, the team has grown to become Canada’s team. The Raptors unveiled the We the North marketing campaign for the 2014 playoffs to rally not only Toronto but also the rest of the country behind the team. It worked! All of Canada loves the Raptors, and it’s almost impossible to see a social media post about the Raptors that isn’t followed by the hashtag #WeTheNorth. Around 18.2 million Canadians tuned in for Game 5 of the Finals. That’s around half of Canada’s population! That really shows how big of an impact the Raptors being in the NBA Finals had on the entire country of Canada.
Of course the centre of this support was in Toronto. Outside the arena during every playoff game the Raptors hosted a viewing party on their big screen. The area is called Jurassic Park. It holds 5,000 people and the atmosphere is amazing! During the Finals, dedicated Raptors fans camped out and waited more than two-and-a-half days just to get into Jurassic Park. Not even to get inside the arena—just to watch it outside on a big screen! That is incredible support. Once the games started, it was loud, energetic, and a great party. As Scott from Mississauga, Ontario, put it when I asked, “Why wouldn’t I camp out in the rain to be part of this?! This is the biggest thing to happen to this city in a long time, and who knows when it will happen again? Raptors fans are the best fans anywhere, so to get to come here and party with them is something I wouldn’t miss!”
In the arena, it was no different. The energy in there was insane, and thanks to the Raptors providing a free T-shirt to all 18,000 in attendance, the crowd was a sea of red. It was loud, energetic, and fun, the very things that drew me to Raptors game when I was little. In an interview I did during the Finals with Cassidy Hubbarth, ESPN reporter and host of the social media show Hoop Streams, I asked her what she thought of the atmosphere in Toronto.
"I mean, many people have said it is one of the best atmospheres that they have ever seen,” she said. “We are dealing with NBA champions who say this is the best crowd they have seen in their playing career, and I cover a lot of games. Seeing what’s going on in Jurassic Park, seeing what’s going on in all of these mini Jurassic Parks popping up throughout the country, it feels like the whole country is behind this team. It’s special.”
At the same time they made the Finals, the Raptors were named the most valuable sports franchise in all of Canada! When I saw this, I almost couldn’t believe it, as hockey crazy as this country is. But the Raptors are the only NBA franchise in Canada, and there are seven NHL teams across the country. The Raptors are currently valued at $1.8 billion. Compare that to 2014 (before the We The North campaign) when they were worth $520 million. This shows how much the Raptors and their fan base have grown. The Raptors have proven that they are a great basketball team, and the country has embraced them.
With this title many Canadians feel that Canada has shown that it is a great basketball nation. Basketball was invented by a Canadian, James Naismith, and the first NBA game was played in Toronto. Throughout the playoffs, the rest of the NBA saw how amazing playing in Toronto could be, and I think this will now be seen as a premier destination for players in the NBA. How could they not want to play for a team where you’re loved and supported by the entire country? I think it was summed up best by Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia. He has season tickets and has not missed one home game in 24 years. He traveled to each road game of the Finals and in speaking with Toronto’s CP24 news channel said, “I’m so happy for all the fans in Canada! Here I met people from Vancouver, Calgary, Newfoundland, and they’re all down here to support the Raptors. They are no longer just the Toronto Raptors, they are the Canada Raptors!”
It’s been 24 years since the Raptors had their first game, and now look where they are. This was their first trip to the Finals, and they were taking on a team making its fifth straight trip. They rose to the challenge and took down the defending champs!
Said one fan, Drew, from Whitby, Ontario, “I’ve waited 24 years for this moment, 24 years! This was our year; this was our time! We won the title: NBA champions!”
My dad cried again when the Raptors won it all, but this time not as much. He didn’t say a lot, just stared at the TV taking it all in. I’m happy for him because now he knows that this is possible for the Raptors and their fans. Just like I always thought it was!
Top photograph by Daniel Gluskoter/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images