Friday, May 4, 2001.
Madison Square Garden. New York City, New York. Game 5. Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks.
That was the last time the Toronto Raptors won a playoff series.
And if you look at the roster that did it, you may stumble upon something a bit eerie.
The starting point guard was a Villanova alum. The star player was a two-time All-Star. They had a player who was known as the “Junk Yard Dog”. Coming off the bench was a rookie, who the fans fell in love with. And the backup point guard? Well, he played most of his minutes alongside the starting point guard.
It should. Because if I were to describe this year’s team – the 2016 playoff edition – all I would have to do is copy and paste that paragraph.
The names on the back of the jerseys are different, but the descriptions are the same.
Alvin Williams, meet Kyle Lowry. (Villanova Alum)
Vince Carter, meet DeMar DeRozan. (Two-Time All-Star)
Jerome Williams, meet DeMarre Carroll. (Junk Yard Dog)
Morris Peterson, meet Norman Powell. (Rookie)
Chris Childs, meet Cory Joseph. (Backup Point Guard)
I don’t know what this means. I don’t even know what I’m suggesting. I’m just presenting the facts.
Being a fan of the Toronto Raptors has often felt like ordering a pizza, getting excited when you see the delivery car pull up, and then watching the delivery man drop the pizza on the driveway.
Then a few weeks later you place another order for pizza, and the same thing happens.
And the cycle repeats itself, over and over and over again.
But through it all, you stick with the same pizza company. Never jumping ship, or demanding a refund. Just constantly spending money on a pizza that won’t ever reach your doorstep.
I hate to make that comparison because I love pizza and I love the Toronto Raptors, but that’s what it feels like, sometimes.
We recently celebrated our 20th season in the NBA. We did so by bringing back a bunch of fan favourites, also known as the players who were on the team that won the only playoff series in franchise history.
We also brought back Tracy McGrady, who left Toronto as soon as his rookie contract expired. He waved to the crowd and told us, “I wish I had stayed”.
Oh, just put a knife in my heart already.
We celebrated twenty years by glazing over the fact that we haven’t really accomplished anything. Sure, we have a lot of good memories, like Vince Carter in the Dunk Contest in 2000. But, we also have a lot of bad memories.
Don’t talk to us about our draft history. Please.
In terms of something tangible, we have a few banners. But they hang in the shadow of other banners. Banners with the Stanley Cup on the front. Banners with the image of old hockey players, some of whom you’d have to ask your parents about. These banners belong to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And I guess it’s fitting, that even way up in the rafters of Air Canada Centre, the Raptors are trying to find their own space. Because that’s what they’ve been trying to do ever since they arrived in Toronto.
Therein lies their biggest accomplishment.
The Toronto Raptors have turned Canadians into hardcore basketball fans.
Who woulda thunk it?
“It seems strange, even to the Raptors, who are used to hearing fans talk more about icing than traveling, more about one-timers than three-pointers. This weekend, it is all about the Raptors and the 76ers.”
That quote is from this article, which was written in 2001.
Back then, we had loyal fans. Vince Carter was the buzz of the NBA, and if it weren’t for him, the Raptors may not be here today. Everyone wanted to see him.
BUT, back then, the Toronto Maple Leafs came first. When they got eliminated from the playoffs, our focus shifted to the Raptors. The Raptors were second fiddle.
If you continue reading that article, you’ll see Lenny Wilkens – the head coach – say that the fan support was an unusual circumstance.
The Raptors made it to the second round of the playoffs and they were surprised by the fan support they were receiving. Imagine that.
Now, the Air Canada Centre is sold out and there are 3000 – 4000 fans standing outside the arena in a space known as, Jurassic Park, watching the game on a big screen. It’s a surprise to no one.
Nor is it surprising that the rest of the country is also tuning in to support the only NBA franchise in Canada.
“We The North”
You might’ve heard of it. That’s our bat signal, which unites an entire country from coast to coast.
In 2001, Canadians were trying to convince themselves that basketball was worth their while.
They We did.
Fact is, we’ve only won one 5-game playoff series (not even a 7-game series!) in twenty years. And yes, we were swept in the playoffs last year. And yes, we lost in Game 7 on our home court the year before that.
And sure, Stoudemire, McGrady, Carter, and Bosh all left us, while Alonzo Mourning didn’t even bother showing up in the first place.
To say Raptors fans have felt disrespected would be an understatement.
But we’re still here and the fan base is larger, and more anxious, than ever.
We don’t have any championship trophies. We don’t have an MVP. We don’t have any retired numbers.
What we have is an entire country. We have Jurassic Park. We have kids dreaming about playing in the NBA. As a country, we have had the second most players in the NBA for the last two seasons. We have fans who would rather talk about basketball, than hockey.
The Toronto Raptors made that happen.
Which brings us to today. With a 3-2 series lead against the Indiana Pacers, the Raptors have two opportunities to get one win.
If we don’t win Game 6, there is still Game 7, which would be in Toronto and in front of a country full of
hockey basketball fans. That being said, I don’t think my heart would be able to withstand the stress of Game 7.
Though, to assume the Raptors will take care of business in Game 6, would force me to refer to that pizza on the driveway analogy. Nothing is for certain.
However, I’ve waited fifteen years for the Raptors to win their second playoff series in franchise history.
This could be the year. Today could be the day.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indianapolis, Indiana. Game 6. Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers.
Friday, April 29, 2016.