For twenty years, the Toronto Raptors have been the team that just doesn’t fit in. They started out as that team up in Canada that played out of a baseball stadium. Surely they won’t last. Basketball in Canada? Man, they don’t play basketball there. They’re too busy building igloos and playing hockey on frozen ponds.
I haven’t been a Raptors fan since day one. I was too young. But I like to think that I’ve been a Raptors fan since day two. I remember watching games in 1997 when I was merely 6-years-old. I would tape some of their games on VHS. VHS!
Guys like Doug Christie and Chauncey Billups are some of my early memories of the team. And then Vince Carter arrived.
I don’t think many people remember that the Raptors didn’t draft Vince Carter; the Golden State Warriors did. The Raptors drafted Antawn Jamison and then flipped him for Carter. This was the best trade in franchise history, if you ask me.
Vince Carter put Toronto on the map. Everyone says that, because it’s true. The Raptors were nothing. They were just a team that was capitalizing on Jurassic Park. They were a team in a hockey market. Surely they wouldn’t last.
Then Carter became one of the best players in the league. His performance at the 2000 Dunk Contest might be the best of all-time. By the way, it was held on the home court of the Golden State Warriors. Their fans got a first-hand account of what they had traded away on draft night a few years prior.
Fast forward to 2001. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Carter missed the winning shot at the buzzer. The Raptors lost. But it was okay. Sure it was gut-wrenching. But it was okay. This was a mere stepping stone to bigger things.
This was the beginning of the end.
The following season ended abruptly in the first round of the playoffs. Then the team fell apart.
Vince Carter asked to be traded and was granted his request. Carter turned into a villain. How could he do this to us? How could he quit on the team? How could he quit on the CITY?
When Carter left in 2004, I hated him. I had two of his jerseys hanging in my closet and I wanted nothing to do with them. I kept them, but I was never going to wear them again. I couldn’t.
I think fans hated Carter as much as they did, not just because he requested a trade, but because we all knew that once he left, the Raptors would be terrible for many years and may not ever reach the same heights he brought us to.
At least, that’s why I was mad. Great, one of the best players just walked out the door for essentially nothing. Back to square one. Back to being the joke of the league. A doormat.
If it weren’t for Carter, you can make the argument that the Toronto Raptors would have relocated. Antawn Jamison was a good player, but he wouldn’t have had a cultural impact the way Carter did.
The Vancouver Grizzlies entered the NBA with the Raptors but they didn’t last. They didn’t have big names to build around. Just a guy nicknamed Big Country.
A few years ago it came out that Carter actually didn’t want to leave in 2004. The day before he was traded he had asked to stay, but the General Manager at the time informed him that he already had an agreement with the New Jersey Nets. Now, he could have broke that trade agreement. Nothing was official. But he didn’t, and Carter left a villain.
I forgave Carter a few years ago. If not for him, I would not have a large chunk of my childhood memories. I’m glad I kept his jerseys.
The impact he had on Canadian basketball players is just now being recognized by the influx of talent from Canada making the NBA.
A lot of fans have forgiven Carter as well.
A lot of fans still hate Carter.
That’s just the way it will always be.
But the Raptors finally seem to be okay. It took a long time to recover from the Carter trade and it looked like they had, with Chris Bosh as the focal point of the franchise. That was merely a smokescreen, though.
For so long, the Raptors have just wanted to fit in. Fans wanted this team to be recognized. We have always felt that we never got enough respect from Americans. We aren’t talked about on television in the US because we are a Canadian basketball team and why would they care about us?
We’re like the little brother that follows his older brother everywhere. The little brother just wants to fit in with the group, but is an outcast.
The team struggled to fit in within its own city, and country. They brought over a bunch of european players, presumably to cater to the culturally diverse city. But the team struggled.
The team also changed it’s colours to red and white to become more Canadian. But the team struggled.
A few years ago there were even some Raptors fans who were embarrassed of our team name. Many fans wanted the name changed to the Toronto Huskies.
And before that, fans complained about the colour of the uniform. Why are we wearing purple? We look like Barney out there. And why is there a big dinosaur across the front of our jersey? This is a disgrace.
We were so concerned about how we looked. About how we presented ourselves to the world. We were never comfortable in our own skin, except when we were winning. But the winning just covered up the insecurities momentarily.
Well, all of a sudden we have started to embrace who we are.
Who knew a simple marketing campaign can change the entire mindset of a country?
“We The North” did just that.
As fans stood outside of the arena last spring during playoff games, they called the area: Jurassic Park. We are finally proud to be called the Raptors. This is who we are.
As for the colour of the uniform, purple is trendy once again. We look back and realize how cool our original jerseys were. And now the team is wearing them on a select number of Friday home games this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the team.
I watch Raptors games and I’m proud to be a fan. The way this franchise has matured, moved on, and inspired an entire country has been incredible.
There was a time, not too long ago, when there didn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. An NBA Championship was never even mentioned in this city because of how preposterous that would sound coming out of our mouths.
Now, it’s more of a reality.
The Raptors are who they are.
They are no longer a team with an expiry date playing out of a baseball stadium.
They are not trying to teach fans the rules of the game.
They aren’t just some team in Canada that plays basketball when the hockey team is out of town.
They aren’t ashamed of their geographic location.
They don’t need to fit in.
They are the Toronto Raptors.
They have become We.
We The North.