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Northern Exposure: Toronto is now the center of the world of basketball



Today, in Toronto, it is not cold. It's cool, in the mid-60s, but maybe the collective exhalations of Raptors fans will raise the thermometer even higher. For decades, the group has been stifled by more established sports cultures in Canada, by apathy, by loss. But now, Toronto has a title and the fandom has been released: turn on the television, go on Twitter, maybe just listen to Niagara Falls and listen carefully, and you'll know Toronto is now a basketball city.

You may have seen the video clips and images of dozens of similar outdoor loudspeakers, dubbed "Jurassic Parks," erected across Canada so that Toronto fans could watch the NBA playoffs. In many of them, the scenes were raucous, joyous and, on rare occasions, ugly. The television shows revealed the beginning of each Jurassic Park, but not their end.

Over the 24 years of the Raptors, the team has tilted between admirable performance and utter irrelevance, cultivating a particularly devoted fan base, even though it is paranoid. Now, with their first trophy Larry O'Brien in hand, this cynicism may have melted. Even in the United States, the center of the basketball universe has migrated north of the border. "I think there's a real pride," said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse about Toronto before the first game. "It's a big city, and a first time, and I think the first time always gives the impression that there's a little more energy."

The Raptors seemed almost inevitable in their 4-2 win over the Warriors. Golden State has already lost, but has never been as troubled and vulnerable as in this final. Their two wins ended in a total of six points and Toronto dominated Golden State in 17 of the 24 quarters of the series. At the end of the series, the Warriors' alignment seemed as superficial as it had been during their five-year dynastic journey. Kevin Durant only played 12 minutes in the series, breaking his Achilles tendon in the fifth game. Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6. At the end of the last game of the final ever to be played at Oracle Arena, Golden State has not played yet. not beat air; they looked broken. The two-time defending champion has finally become an outsider; Part of this can be attributed to rotten luck, but it's also a testament to how far the Raptors have come in their years as adorable losers. "As raptors grow, it becomes an identity element for a lot of people in the city," says columnist Bruce Arthur. Toronto Star who has been writing about sports in Toronto for almost two decades. "It's a very great place to be."

This is the first time that one of Toronto's three major sports teams has won a title since 1993, when Joe Carter won the legendary home race. He won the World Series for the Blue Jays. The Raptors race, perhaps the least likely in the history of the league, marks more than the end of the decades-long drought in the region. It's the culmination of Toronto's transformation into a full-fledged basketball city.

Thirty years ago, none of this existed. There was no Jurassic Park, no rallying cry "We North". Canada has kept basketball at bay, not many people are following it, let alone big emerging talent. Steve Nash, the current Hall of Famer who grew up in British Columbia, had just started practicing the sport. "In this country, you've always felt like you're part of a small tribe," says Arthur. "You knew the other people who were there when you met them and you were passionate about it, but five of my high school students watched basketball and they were all part of my basketball team."

In the early 1990s, before the expansion of the NBA in Canada, league information was of paramount importance in the country. Media institutions had an established hierarchy of priorities: hockey captured the first, second and third segments of each televised sports program. To find out what had happened in the draft NBA, Canadians had to look for a newspaper that deemed the event worthy of being covered.

In 1995, when the Vancouver Raptors and Grizzlies played their inaugural season, the organizations took part in an experiment. Could the NBA come to a new country and make yourself important? In Vancouver, the answer was no. The Grizzlies barely left a mark on the city and moved to Memphis after six losing seasons in 2001. For a while, it seemed that the Raptors would also have trouble captivating local crowds. They played until 1999 in the SkyDome (renamed since Rogers Center), a stadium built for the Blue Jays and comically poorly equipped to accommodate basketball. Selling tickets was not a problem, but the cultural integration of the game was another story.

But the Raptors have emerged as a team made up of new Torontonians, young transplant recipients and children, as well as a generation seeking to forge their own identity. "People of my age were perceived as owners of the Raptors because basketball was this new sport in the city and the team did not belong to a different generation," said 34-year-old Eric Koreen. from Thornhill, Ontario. covers the raptors for L & # 39; athletics. "The Raptors felt slightly more accessible than the Leafs. You can get a ticket for $ 5 or $ 10 while the Leafs, you had to know someone or your parents had to splurge once a year.

Most Torontonians will tell you that the Maple Leafs fandom is woven through every inch of the fabric of the city. The team was created in 1917 and the related links were passed from parents to parents and beyond. When the Leafs travel to play against other Canadian NHL teams, they often fill up with arena rinks. "It's a dominant monoculture in this city," Arthur says. "And that's old money, prestige and power. This is the dominant force. But the Leafs were largely disappointed during the years of training young Torontonians. The team has not reached the semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2004 and has not won the Cup since 1967. Their attraction outside Canada has also reached a kind of cultural ceiling. "The Raptors punched America in a way that the Leafs would never have been able to," said Koreen.

It started with Vince Carter, who was perhaps the first viral superstar in the NBA. His elastic legs created some of the defining moments of the defining era. Talk to all basketball fans old enough to remember the turn of the millennium. They will discuss the 2000 dunk contest and Carter hanging from the elbow rim. But Carter's dunks were not enough to turn the Raptors from mere fascination to pride for Torontonians. The Raptors' debut never went beyond the second round of the playoffs, falling especially against Allen Iverson's Sixers in 2001 after Carter missed an unhinged last-second rider in a seventh game. "But that was not up to the current situation," says Yang-Yi Goh, an independent writer in Toronto, Carter has cooled the Raptors and it would be necessary to win to make them sound.


Toronto Fans Attend Jurassic Park to Watch Raptors Play for NBA Championship

Photo of Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images

A fan base will cherish a series of sustained successes for a lifetime. Ask fans of Celtics about the 1980s, Knicks fans about the '90s, or Lakers fans about Showtime or Shaq and Kobe years. Even without a title, a long period of success can engender good will in a city that spans a generation. The Toronto final would have been a boon at any point in the history of the franchise, but the fact that it is happening now is almost too perfect.

In the past six seasons, the Raptors have not missed the playoffs and have won 50 regular season wins four times. During the Carter years, the team only participated once in the second round of the playoffs. In the seven seasons Chris Bosh spent with the team from 2003 to 2010, they did not even do much. Since 2014, raptors have established themselves as a pillar of the Eastern Conference. "This is the beginning, in the last five or six years, that he has moved closer to the Canadian team and joined the national bloodstream," said Arthur.

In spite of what the conventional wisdom of the modern NBA front offices might suggest: if a team is not a competitor, it is better to dismantle and rebuild than to hope for a lucky break: the Raptors have kept a cultural value. Each of their playoffs has brought a spark of energy to a city that has been slow to get used to the sport. "That's how fan bases are built," Arthur says. "The Jays came to this country and won two championships in the early '90s and when they are bad, people are not paying attention. And when they are good, they are as popular as the whole country. It's kind of the place where the Raptors could go and that's how you'll get there.

The last checkpoint to get there has long been elusive. After the series of Raptors playoff appearances, boosted by star striker DeMar DeRozan and head coach Dwane Casey, the franchise has earned a reputation for shrinking in the greatest moments. Toronto was eliminated by LeBron James Cavaliers in each of the previous three seasons. a final conference in 2016 and two conference semifinals, both of which resulted in a sweep. The city has been transformed into a meme: LeBronto. Last season, the confidence in the team was surprisingly low. the Raptors finished 2017-18 with the best record of the East, but the chorus remained the same: Do not worry about them. Toronto Toronto.

All this has changed with this exceptionally dramatic playoff series. Toronto trailed in all series in the first three rounds before going back to win. In the final of the conference, the Raptors fell into a 0-2 hole before playing four games in a row. At the end of the sixth game, Leonard plunged Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league's most valuable player in what appeared to be the release valve for all the uncertainties accumulated over the years among Raptors fans.

But one moment of this race will be replayed in the bars of the city, the province and the country more than any other: in the seventh match of the semifinal of the Eastern Conference against the Sixers, the countdown taking zero, Leonard tried to reproduce the blow that Carter had missed 18 years ago. He touched the edge four times, refusing to drop for nearly two seconds, enough time for the Scotiabank Arena crowd to shut up. Then he fell through, giving the Raptors the game, the series, and a memory to cling to for posterity. "The only thing with the Raptors that you must always remember," Arthur said. "This is the first time that they are rewarding their fans with the" I remember where I was "moments."

Leonard's coup not only spawned blog posts on the moment, he spawned blog posts about pics from the moment. The Shot was of such magnitude and competitiveness that it canceled years of conditioning that had left Torontonians afraid to care or believe in the Raptors. "I think Kawhi's shot was a turning point for the movement this year. People like my mother, who has a great aversion to the sport, have started sending me text messages on the Raptors and worrying about that shot, "said Goh.

The shot had a ripple effect that straddled the edges of the basketball pond; becoming a basketball city is now an integral part of the cultural world that surrounds this sport. It is therefore logical that, unlike the Raptors, other stories about Toronto are too.

"The success of the NBA is a big void for the media around the world. So, in the final, one of the side effects is that you have 300 or more reporters in your city, "said Sam Anderson, author of the 2018 book titled Boom Town about Oklahoma City and the rise of thunder. Anderson's book explains in detail how a fast-moving basketball team brought the eyes of the world to a new city. Toronto is a different place from OKC; he is 10 times taller. Nevertheless, he receives the same type of basketball problems.

"Very influential and well-established people with media platforms are now in your city and take care of the logistics of" Where can I get coffee?? Where is a decent place to eat? "Explains Anderson. "And these are people who are trained to pay attention to where they are, so all that energy is now directed to your city. And they all argue for "How to tell this story differently from others?" And part of it becomes a story about the city. "


2019 NBA Finals - Part Six

Picture of Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Much of this energy has been concentrated on Drake. The greatest rapper on the planet has been playing Raptors for years, often creating his own show. In 2014, he rolled his pants. In 2016, he tried to look down for while he's checked into a game. This year, Drake went into high gear by rubbing Nurse's shoulders in the conference finale, wearing a Dell Curry Raptors jersey in the first game of the final and generally making his best impression of Spike Lee throughout the playoffs. In a way, the presence of Drake has overloaded the organization. "There is a strange symbiosis between the rise of Drake and that of this basketball team. It was something that Oklahoma City did not have: a major celebrity sitting next to the court, "says Anderson. "Basketball has the most juice right now. I think the rise of hip-hop as a dominant cultural mode, the cross between that and basketball have been rather homogeneous. "

The success of the Raptors has allowed other parts of Toronto's cultural identity to also penetrate the discourse. In recent weeks, the city's ethnic diversity has been defended (more than half of the population speaks a language other than English or French) and has been dissected. AT The ringIn January, the dispatch of my colleague Danny Chau in the city was accompanied by a dispatch on his rich and varied gastronomic scene. By observing the Raptors, non-residents may have heard about facets of Toronto's film or architectural culture; that's what sports success can do for a city. "Maybe Kawhi and this team are the gateway for some people," says Koreen. "But Toronto also has one of the world's largest film festivals and Caribana in the summer. There are many gigantic events for sports fans. "

Of course, increased visibility also brings traps. In the fifth game, when Durant tore his Achilles, members of the Toronto crowd cheered, waved and mocked the injured striker. The Raptors and Warriors players then scolded the parties involved and, when KD left the field, much of the arena applauded and chanted his name. Just as the Raptors have brought to light all that makes Toronto unique, they have also drawn attention to its capacity for unsightly behavior (these are sports fans, after all). Since the fifth match, the reaction of the fans at that time has become one of the biggest media reports on the final. "I think it was the first time the world was giving negative attention to what Raptors fans had done," said Goh. "Maybe it was the first time people had to take into account the fact that the Raptors fan base is not better than any other fan base."

Although Raptors Mania has had a dark side, conscientious excitement is what will last. Nearly half of Canada watched at least some of the finals; Raptor standings have overwhelmed the Stanley Cup, and many new fans say they want to play next year. "I get messages from Vancouver friends in bars and the sound is good for the Raptors playoffs, and that never happens. Like never. Even the last years they were good and played LeBron in the conference finals, that was not the case, "said Arthur. "The further they go, the more casual fans connect because they want to be there for the next step."

The next thing now is another title. Only twenty-four years after the adoption of basketball, the Raptors fans have the ultimate privilege: the opportunity to defend their title.

Kawhi Leonard is the hand that turns the page. It is not omnipresent, but if it appears, it may feel inevitable. He does not speak a lot. It simply materializes and wipes the slate. Leonard has closed the book on the Miami mini-dynasty and has now done the same with the Golden State. When the NBA recently needed to enter a new phase, Kawhi was the volunteer usher. Now, Toronto is here.

"DeRozan has never been able to provide such an economical production, but he is not alone. The other players on the team, from Vince Carter to Chris Bosh, to Kyle Lowry, the five-time All-Star who has recently become a role player in this team led by Leonard, also wrote " Star from May It's as good as Toronto has ever seen. As the playoffs approached, Toronto no longer needed a superhero like Carter, but rather matched his story to Carter's. Vince is forced out of the city; Kawhi introduced it by force.

The Raptors and their fans have long been other. Other to the Leafs, other to American teams, other in the United States in general. Canadians, Koreen and Arthur emphasize, often see themselves primarily as non-Americans. DeRozan was a star and was well-liked, but Leonard's otherness among NBA stars – LeBron has a production company, Jimmy Butler has a YouTube channel, Kawhi has sent four tweets– better reflects the image of the Raptors and the Toronto psyche.

"People really identified with DeMar and loved it, and I think it's, in some ways, the way we are: emotional, hard-working and inclined to react badly to critics, "says Goh. "I think Kawhi's identity is what this city is striving for be, and the way they want to think of themselves to go forward. "

Now, with his impending free agency, Leonard can to choose Toronto and cement their collective identity. "People are enthusiastic and then the team has merged with the identity of the city. So they feel proudly residents, "said Anderson. "It's not only where they live, but it's an identity to be paraded around the world and one that can be proud of. And so, there is something in this collective mythology in which people can believe and be really excited. If Leonard stays, he will be a legendary figure of the city forever. But maybe even if he goes away, to Los Angeles or elsewhere, his reputation will remain irreproachable. After all, he has already given a fan base something that they did not even know they were expecting from him just a year ago.

There is a parade in Toronto on Monday that nobody expected, but tens of thousands of people will be present. The city will be red and the crowds will contain all of a city; its beauty and its quirks and conventions. Toronto is here; for the moment, the rest of the world will have to be the others.


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