There are moments in life that seem elusive. You dream of them, you look for them, you picture yourself in them, but you never get to live them.
You chalk it up as something that might happen “someday” but the calendar has seven days and “someday” isn’t one. So, you keep waiting.
The Toronto Raptors just won the NBA championship and I don’t know what to say. This is one of those moments that never felt possible.
A basketball team in Canada. In a hockey town. Arriving in 1995, two years after the baseball team finishes winning back-to-back World Series championships. An extinct reptile as the mascot, inspired by a movie. Playing games out of a baseball stadium. Instructing the fans on when to boo and cheer.
No, that’s not a recipe for success. That’s not even a recipe.
Twenty-four years later, look at them. Look at what they’ve done to this country.
They’ve pulled at our hockey puck hearts and united us behind the mantra of, “We The North”. In Canada, if you’re not from Toronto, you probably don’t like Toronto. And yet, the entire country is cheering for our local sports team because in this situation, the word “local” is not confined to a city.
So, it’s fitting that the Raptors won the championship while wearing uniforms that said “North” across the front. Because that’s who they represent. All of us. Canada.
And if this championship came 15 years ago, it wouldn’t have the same affect. Heck, if it came 5 years ago, it wouldn’t be like it is now.
This was the time. This was the elusive moment. This was “someday”.
The years between Alvin Robertson’s first bucket for the Raptors in 1995, and this NBA title, have been playing on a loop in my head ever since the final buzzer sounded a few hours ago.
I wish I could invite you inside, so you can see what I’ve seen, and feel what I’ve felt because it hasn’t been easy. Oftentimes, being a Raptors fan has been a lonely experience.
You wear a Raptors jersey to school and you’re just asking for someone to tell you they suck. You sit at home watching all 82 regular season games and they can even win 30.
You get your hopes up for Stoudamire, McGrady, Carter, Bosh, and others, but one by one they leave and trigger your greatest insecurity – no one wants to play in Canada.
It’s too cold. It’s too different. Crossing the border is a hassle. They don’t want their kids to learn the metric system. Their family and friends can’t watch them on TV. It’s a foreign country. It’s a hockey town. They don’t understand why the locals say, “Toronno”. What the hell are all-dressed chips?
For so long it felt like an uphill battle that would never end. The fight for legitimacy was real. The fight for attention from the media down south was real. We just wanted to be noticed.
But then they’d finally put the camera on us and we’d crumble, time and time again.
The feeling of, “This is too good to be true, something bad will happen soon” was engrained in me. I knew no other way for a Raptors season to end, other than in disappointment.
For the first four games of the NBA Finals, I watched every minute, yet still couldn’t believe the Raptors were one of the final two teams. It didn’t feel real. I was always looking for the old Raptors to appear.
I was looking for fear to emanate from their pores. I was looking for a collapse that would start up the, “Same old Raptors” narrative. That never happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I believed in this team – just check my playoff bracket – but when you’ve never experienced something before, you don’t know how it feels until after it hits you.
Well, this is the “After” and I can confirm that reality is finally hitting me.
The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions and yeah, I cried a few tears. I had to. I owed it to my younger self – the one who stayed up way too late one night in February of 2000, to watch Vince Carter win the dunk contest in Oakland – because 19 years later, that little boy would watch the Raptors hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the exact same building, and feel like a kid all over again.
It’s been a wild ride, to say the least.
On Monday, there will be a parade in Toronto. I’m expecting the entire country to be shut down because we, the north, have a new mantra to celebrate.
We The Champs.