It’s finally happened. A Toronto sports team took home a title in a millennium that starts with ‘2’. And what’s more, it was the team few expected.
*all images by Morgan Hotston
The Toronto Raptors took home the NBA Championship.
A Canadian sports team made history, and it was a beautiful victory fraught with conflict but ending in catharsis and a crazy, day-long parade and celebration in the Raptors’ honor. And I’m thrilled to have seen it happen in my lifetime.
As a born and raised Torontonian (by way of Scarborough), it’s been funny to hear the Raptors referred to as Canada’s team. But as playoff fever ran through the city, infecting more and more people with every nail-biting game, I found that couldn’t bring myself to disagree.
The reality is that, after the Memphis Grizzlies’ shortlived time in Vancouver, the Raptors remain the only NBA team on Canadian soil, bearing the weight of our entire country’s basketball hopes and dreams on its players’ shoulders. But beyond that, there’s just something about the Raptors that feels like Canada, and feels like home. Part of it is just looking at the team; with players who represent multiple races, who speak different languages and come from varying backgrounds and walks of life. That diversity, or more so, the distinct lack of homogeneity, feels distinctly Canadian. And hey, there’s even an actual Canadian on the team, in Montrealer Chris Boucher, keeping these Canuck ballers honest. But at its core, it’s that visible difference, part of that fabric of diversity that is an integral part of the lived Canadian experience for so many, that helps make the Raptors equal parts relatable and admirable. And that admiration is part of what rallied an entire country around them and inspired such positivity in our city. And I for one greatly enjoyed basking in all the positivity that our Raptors winning streak bestowed upon us.
To me, the essence of that positivity was the inherent “togetherness” of it all. From the first ball drop to the sound of that end-of-game buzzer, it was a sure bet that the vast majority of Torontonians were thinking and feeling the same thing, for the same reason. Everyone was cheering on the Raptors and for those couple of hours a few times a week, we all had something in common, something that brought us together despite all the differences that normally divide us. And in a world defined by difference and division, those games were a much-needed break. As the Playoffs ramped up and the possibility of taking the championship transformed into a certainty, that fervor encompassed not only the city, or even the province; our whole country was pulled in. Soon, all of Canada was cheering on the Raptors, bonding together, breath held, hands clenched in hopeful anticipation. And you knew when that last buzzer sounded, we all cheered at the very same time.
That positivity the Raptors brought to Toronto, Ontario and Canada carried on through the entire playoff series and the fervently hoped for win. To witness a team of young men, mostly of color, all from different walks of life, having millions of people fete and worship them was a beautiful sight to behold. I loved seeing the contrast of Kawhi Leonard’s embodiment of the stoic champion, the conquering hero unmoved by the achievement of legendary status, to the palpable excitement and exaltation embodied by his teammates. The youthful joy and exuberance exhibited by every player (besides Kawhi, who did manage to crack a smile a few times during the parade) was so heartwarming. As they each spoke to the crowd of adoring fans, basking in their glory, it was clear that the whole Raptors team was eager to share the wonder of this win with the city they now call home. These are heroes that we need today more than ever. With the ugliness of white supremacy, divisive, occasionally racist politics and tragedy seemingly attacking every part of the globe, that immigrant and/or minority success story is a necessary inspiration, one that people of color, those on the margins and faced with oppression need to help them get by, to show them that it’s possible to succeed in the face of their oppression, even if the odds can be long.
I haven’t always been a positive person – trust me, it’s something I’ve really been working on lately. But I did my best to cling to the positivity of this championship and the subsequent celebration, for as long as I could. But aside from the violence that marred the mostly peaceful celebration came another sort of intrusion on the joy of the day. While watching the Raptors parade festivities, I found myself enraged upon seeing Doug Ford’s smug, smiling face looking back at me from my television screen. He was on the stage at Nathan Philips Square, seated in a row with Mayor John Tory, Edward Rogers, Justin Trudeau and the handful of other white, non-sports related, men who took part in the event. And while the others received far cooler welcomes than the team, it was clear by the chorus of “boo’s” that I wasn’t the only person who was disgusted at seeing Doug Ford walk across that stage.
Ford’s obvious bandwagon jumping is just another layer to the hypocrisy and avarice that he, his party, and his supporters have become known for. Human memory may be short but information lives on the internet forever, so while some may pretend that this, this and all of this never happened but it did. To call young men of color “thugs”, to cut funding from programs meant to move them out of the marginalization they suffer, only to turn around and cheer for young men just like them that have risen to the ranks of NBA stars is the latest insult layered on the pile of injury layered upon the people of Ontario. Black men can’t be villains one moment and heroes the next when it happens to suit the rich white folks running this city, province, and country. And that goes for voters too; it really grinds my gears to see people out there who espouse the politics and vote for men like Ford cheering on this team, able to somehow separate the players on the Raptors from the people around them in their daily lives. So let me say this and be done with it:
If you’ve ever ranted about immigrants and refugees coming to this country and doing whatever bad things you like to pretend they do, and you cheered for the Raptors, you may be a hypocrite.
If you live in Ontario, and voted for Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives and support their budgetary attack on our provinces’ most vulnerable citizens, and you cheered on the Raptors, you may be a hypocrite.
If you live in Canada and plan to vote for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives and welcome the fresh hell that would bring upon us all, and you cheered on the Raptors, you may also be a hypocrite.
So many young athletes like those on the Toronto Raptors would not be there if not for the social programs, and the support systems built to support the young men that eventually become NBA champions. In fact, many of these young people rise up DESPITE the lack of these programs in the places they come from, that are currently under attack. These young men of color rise and thrive despite the marginalization, the discrimination, and oppression that is oftentimes created and perpetuated by these governments. And if you want to believe that marginalization of racialized individuals doesn’t exist in 2019, let me remind you that Raptors President Masai Ujiri may have been racially profiled AS HIS TEAM WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP. So for most of us, it’s hard to forget that but for the genetic and opportunistic lottery these young men win (combined of course with the hard work, dedication and talent it takes to play at that level – but many can have that and still never get far), there is still much to overcome before achieving Raptors status.
But let’s cut back to the positive. Yesterday, Toronto threw a party for its homecoming heroes, the Raptors, to celebrate this beautiful, historic win of the NBA Championship. ADDICTED’s own Morgan Hotston captured the most beautiful images of the purity and joy behind this celebration.
And in other news, thanks to this playoff series I’ve developed a crush on Serge Ibaka, further exacerbated by Now Magazine’s brilliant discovery of his YouTube cooking/interview show. Please enjoy this episode that is probably the most words and smiles Kawhi Leonard has ever expressed in front of a camera. And can you blame him?
Ya, I’m a subscriber now too.
Congrats to our Toronto Raptors, the history-making, first Canadian NBA Championship winners. Welcome home champs!