By Chad Ingram
I remember when the Toronto Raptors franchise was established. It was 1993. I was 11 years old. The Blue Jays were World Series champions, and there was a huge buzz about Toronto getting its own NBA team.
While the Raptors would not play their first game until 1995, team merchandise was available long before then, and I remember being so excited when my mom bought me a Raptors T-shirt and hat. I was not as big a fan of basketball as I was of dinosaurs. Like any nerdy kid, I’d been obsessed with them since I was about five years old. Plus, it was the ‘90s. The first Jurassic Park movie had just been released, that Dinosaurs sitcom was on TV. Dinosaurs were trending, dinosaurs were hip, which is almost certainly why the franchise got the name it did.
My parents’ neighbour had a corporate job, which meant when the Raptors did start playing, he would often have tickets for games, and he’d take my sister and me. Some will recall that during their first few years, the Raptors played in what was then the SkyDome, a stadium that was of course designed for baseball. The seats were not always necessarily the greatest, and the Raptors often didn’t do so well, but it was exciting to watch live games in those early years.
In our family, it is my sister who is the athlete and the big sports fan. During high school, her bedroom was covered in posters of Raptors star Vince Carter. My bedroom was covered in posters of The Beatles and Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. As I got older, sports became increasingly less important, music increasing more so.
That continues to be the case today. I’m by no means an ardent sports fan. I go to the occasional Jays game. I’ll watch the Leafs on a Saturday night. And, it turns out, I’ll watch the Raptors if they make the NBA playoffs.
Like so many bandwagon-jumpers, I’ve found myself excitedly affixed to my television these past few weeks, watching, sometimes in astonishment, the Raptors claw their way to victory in some extremely close games. I even stayed up past my bedtime to watch them win the championship last week.
The Toronto Raptors are, of course, more than just Toronto’s NBA’s team, more than just Ontario’s NBA team. They are Canada’s only NBA team, and that’s what’s made the whole thing so exciting. A swelling of patriotic pride in a country that is not really one for flag-waving. Everyone loves an underdog story, and if that underdog happens to be our only NBA team defeating a number of American ones, then so be it.
It’s estimated that some two million people filed into downtown Toronto for a victory parade on Monday, many flying in from different parts of the country. It was a full-blown civic and national celebration, one that will be remembered for a long time. What happened last week was more than just a sporting event.