I can’t believe I just wrote that. The Toronto Raptors are in the NBA Finals. What!? This is not real life. This doesn’t happen to us. This doesn’t happen to Toronto sports teams. What do you mean we’re going to be playing games in June?
The Toronto Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 100-94, to win the Eastern Conference and secure a berth in the NBA Finals for the first time in the team’s 24-year history.
By the way, the last 29.6 seconds of the game took 16 minutes to play. I went back to check. I’ve waited 24 years for this moment and those 29.6 seconds were, by far, the most agonizing.
For the last two and a half hours, I’ve been in a state of, “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?” Yes, the all caps are necessary.
I sat on the couch shaking for over an hour. I’ll never forget this night.
This is one of those moments you tell the grandkids about.
From the minute I was born, I’ve loved sports. Don’t ask me why or how, it’s just the way I am. I was that kid who wore sports jerseys to school. I was that kid who always heard, “The Leafs suck”, and “The Raptors are so bad”, and “Who even watches baseball?”
My fandom, my loyalty, the essence of my being – have all been questioned, doubted, and mocked because Toronto sports teams aren’t good. And when they are good, it ends horribly.
It ends in Game 7. And then it ends in another Game 7. And then another Game 7.
And when my heart isn’t being ripped out of my chest, it’s put on a yo-yo, so I can get my hopes up every three seconds.
I was alive when the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 & 1993, but I was born in 1991 and have no memory of them.
The Toronto Raptors, however, entered the NBA in 1995. By that time, I was 4-years-old and tripping over hula-hoops at school, which is to say I grew up with the Raptors.
There was one day in kindergarten when they had us bring in a pillow and blanket (optional) because we were all going to have a group nap in the gym.
For the occasion, my mom bought me a square pillow – I think they’re called “throw pillows”. Anyway, it was black and had the Toronto Raptors logo in the middle of it.
I can still remember the smell of it. So fresh, so new, so Zellers. I still have it, it’s currently sitting on the rocking chair behind me.
For the first few years of the Raptors’ existence, they played out of the SkyDome – a baseball stadium.
That is so 90s, I love it. I just want to know the dialogue that took place back then.
“Hey NBA, we’d like to have a team in Toronto.”
“Hey Toronto, no problem. Where will they play?”
“We were thinking the SkyDome. You’ve probably heard of it, everyone’s going crazy about the retractable roof.”
“Ah yes! The baseball stadium! That’s perfect! You may have one (1) team.”
Sometimes I wish I was born 5 years earlier, so I could’ve fully appreciated how wacky sports were in the 90s. The 90s sports scene is my spirit animal.
I still remember watching those early games on TV. I would even use the VCR to tape them, just so I could go back and watch them whenever I wanted.
Who does that? No one. Especially not kids who don’t know how to tie their shoes yet.
There was just something I loved about it. I didn’t know what the NBA was. I didn’t know there were standings, or playoffs. I didn’t know what the greater purpose for these games was. And none of it mattered, I was hooked.
Then Vince Carter came in and the team moved over to the Air Canada Centre. I still remember the first game they played at the ACC. It was against the Vancouver Grizzlies and I think it was a 6PM start.
So, I’m in the kitchen eating dinner and have the TV on in the next room with the game on. After every bite, I stood up to take a look.
Nothing has changed about me since I was child, except now I’ll just eat in front of the TV if I have to. Sports have always come first. I don’t know how else to live.
It was always a race for me to get my homework done before 7PM because that’s when the games were on. Yeah, I have a test tomorrow but the Raptors are on. Or the Leafs are on. Or Blue Jays. Argos. You name it, I found a reason to be in front of the TV at 7PM.
The Vince Carter years with the Raptors were exciting and he brought us to the playoffs, but then the winning stopped and the injuries started, and next thing you know he’s traded to the New Jersey Nets and the Raptors receive two guys named, Williams, and a guy named, Mourning.
Alonzo Mourning didn’t even enter the country. He didn’t want to be here.
That happened in December 2004.
From the 2002-03 season all the way until the 2012-13 season, the Raptors were awful. They had one winning season out of eleven. Oh, they also won half their games in another season, but whatever.
That is 11 seasons of armpit-ery. I just created that word, feel free to use it. But you know what, I watched just about every one of those games.
The last six seasons of Raptors basketball have been outstanding. They have four 50+ win seasons in a row.
Little Paul could not fathom such a thing ever happening.
But within all that success there was still a lot of failure. There were two first round exits, and then 12 losses to LeBron James in 14 games.
The Raptors would go to the dance, but they’d end up sitting in a washroom stall until it was over. That is my analogy for how the playoffs have gone for this team.
They would crumble and you could see it through the TV, year after year. You knew when it was coming.
“Typical Raptors”, they’d say. And they’d be correct. There was a pattern of losing.
Enter – Kawhi Leonard. Robot. Cyborg. Superstar. Saviour.
Oh, so this is what it’s like to have one of the best players in the NBA on your team. Now, we have something. Now, we have a team that is the perfect blend of wise owls and young bucks. Now, we have the right mix and it shows.
You don’t make the NBA Finals by accident. You don’t just back your way into it. You have to beat teams that are capable of beating you. The Raptors have done that.
Orlando Magic – Hocus Pocus’d
Philadelphia 76ers – Cheese Steak’d
Milwaukee Bucks – Deer, Cleared
I’m already talking myself into the Toronto Raptors beating the Golden State Warriors. Heck, we’re already 2-0 against them this season. Let’s shock the world!
All those years when no one took us seriously. All those rebuilds. All those players that left. All the playoff disappointments. All of it lead to this moment. It’s a moment I’ve always dreamed of, but never thought would happen.
Why would it? We’re Toronto. We don’t win stuff. We lose, in the most heart-crushing ways possible. If a cat has nine lives, then a Toronto sports fan must have about 284.
The Toronto Raptors’ journey from a freakin’ baseball stadium, to the NBA Finals, is exactly why I love sports. You never know when things will change, so you better keep watching, as to not miss it when it does.
This is still so surreal to me. I need to take a deep breath, or 87.
Win or lose, I’m so proud of this team.
That being said, I really want a parade downtown. I want to experience that chaos. I want to wander around, trying to find people I know, and then when I find them I want to say, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE AT A PARADE” and then laugh because that would be the most unbelievable thing we’d ever experience.
It’s a very specific request, but I think it’s doable.
Sports are the best and last night was magical.
No one wake me from this dream.