Why Is The Finals So Important For Toronto?
The Raptors booked their ticket to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history three days ago. I’m still finding it hard to wrap my head around. If you asked me at the start of the playoffs who I thought was going to make it out of the East, my answer would have been the Raptors every single time. Hell, I even predicted Raps in six for this series. Still, I find it hard to believe. I guess I'm just not used to something good happening to this team.
Successful basketball in Canada has been a long time coming. It all started with a 22-year-old Vince Carter putting on a dunking clinic that mesmerized Raptors fans. The love began there, and it’s been around ever since. When he played his way into a trade 20 games into the 2004-05 season, there was an uproar from fans that showed the first signs of true love towards a basketball team. From that point on, successes were far and few between. After their 2001-02 postseason appearance, the Raptors held a record of 333-529 until the Lowry DeRozan era took flight in 2013-14. Even then, the best version of that team was never seen as a true contender despite some very impressive regular seasons. Now look where we are. Heading to the NBA Finals.
There aren’t always moments in sports that go further than the game. Saturday night was one of those for Toronto, and quite frankly, Canada as a whole. It was a moment 24 years in the making. A moment that Toronto hasn't experienced since 1967 when the Maple Leafs made the Stanley Cup Final and won. For a sports city of this magnitude, this type of stuff means a lot.
If you were on Twitter or Instagram within 36 hours of the win, you saw at least one video of what downtown Toronto looked like. Most of the stuff that was going around was people jumping on cars, climbing buses and dancing in the street. However, it was the little things happening that resonate more than anything else. Some of Canada was watching at home, some people were at the game and quite a few (including myself) were out with friends at the local watering hole (bar). We all watched the same game but, just like everything else in life, the experience was different for everybody. The one aspect that stayed true throughout was no matter where or how you watched the game, people were brought together.
A lot of the time that’s what sports does; It brings people together. People with all sorts of backgrounds and stories are united as one even if it’s only for a three-hour stretch. In my case, it was much longer than that and much more important than just my favourite sports team, winning the biggest game of my lifetime. It was more about spending those hours of euphoria with some of the most important people in my life. It was about connecting with people I’d never met before and, quite honestly, will never meet again. It was about savouring the moment. I’m 20 years old and as everyone knows, it’s hard for this generation to put our phones away for 15 minutes, let alone for the duration of a basketball game. I forced myself into that and, for the rest of my life, I will never regret it.
A lesson my late cousin/best friend taught me was to never get caught up in the little things and to always live in the moment. He said it was the key to having fun and no one had more fun than him. I try every day to adopt this mentality, and some days it’s harder than others but there was no better timing than game six. Because of living in the moment, I experienced, in full, the greatest Toronto sports moment of my short lifetime. I was able to embrace being part of history. I was able to share that with my best friends. I was able to relish in the post-game insanity with a best friend I hadn’t seen in six years. That’s the type of stuff this stupid game and this stupid team that I love so much allows you to do. Despite the alcohol-induced fogginess of my memories from that night, it’s something I will never forget.
I know it’s just a basketball game. A stupid, meaningless basketball game but, it’s never just about the game. Everyone's aware of the impact Vince Carter had on the city and the role he played in developing the basketball culture north of the border. This will do the same. Maybe more. An average of 3.1 million people in Canada were watching the game at any given moment and 6.8 million at least tuned in. That means nearly 20% of the whole population was a little interested in the outcome. Whether this is where the winning ends or not, having a team compete for a championship will absolutely alter some dynamics in this Leafs dominant city.