The 6 ain’t friendly but it’s where I lay up
This s*** a mothaf***in’ lay up
I been Steph Curry with the shot
Been cookin’ with the sauce, chef, curry with the pot, boy
– Drake, “0 to 100 / The Catch Up”
In the end, it all came down to, well, everything.
Career-defining double-doubles from Siakam the upstart and Lowry the veteran. Another career-defining performance from Fred Sr., aka the guy who wasn’t even supposed to be here. Kawhi Leonard. Nick Nurse. Masai Ujiri. The friendly ghosts of James Naismith and DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi Leonard.
And that’s just Game 6. It took fifteen more wins to get here, each with its own mini-narrative (and Kawhi Leonard). Another 58 in the regular season. A rookie coach who proved his worth in the space of one season. A team president willing to risk everything, not least the wrath of Toronto sports fans, on the gamble of a lifetime.
It also took grit and blood and sweat and tears. 24 years of (mostly) good-natured mocking of the purple dinosaurs of the north. Toronto’s, no, Canada’s ceaseless insecurity about our place on the world stage.
Well, it’s been a little over a week since it happened, but it’s safe to say it’s finally sunk in:
The Raptors just won the NBA Championship.
Canada just brought basketball home.
HOW ABOUT THAT LOCAL SPORTS TEAM
The following things are true:
Toronto has its first NBA title.
Canada has its first NBA title.
Nobody (outside the 6ix) thought this was possible.
It’s also true that this would not have happened without Kawhi Leonard, the best player in the NBA, whose trade to Toronto was met with such aggressive skepticism that some chose to believe he’d sit out the season rather than play for, hey, what turned out to be the best team in the NBA.
It’s not true, but at least possible, that things might have gone differently had the Warriors been 100% healthy, had their injuries not reduced them from being gratuitously stacked to merely absurdly stacked. (Never forget that the Dubs made five straight finals appearances, with and without the fabled Kevin Durant.) DeMar DeRozan may have been Toronto’s sacrificial lamb in the quest for gold, but it’s not wrong to say that the losses of Klay Thompson and of KD – both of whom, had the winds blown differently, could have easily been MVP contenders – affected the Warriors’ title prospects. (*More on this would-be asterisk in a moment.)
But the main thing that’s true is that Toronto, a team with no Big Four sports title since the halcyon days of the Toronto Blue Jays, just earned a title in that other sport invented by a Canadian, even as (shudder) its MLSE sister team maintains a 51 season drought. (But let’s not talk about that here.)
It goddamn means something that our boys won this.
That said, this series wasn’t always pleasant.
It certainly got ugly when (some) Toronto sports fans applauded after Kevin Durant went down in Game 5. There’s nothing defensible here, but at least we, Canada, collectively took ownership, and did our best to apologize to KD, via substantial donations to his charity.
It also got ugly when Warriors ownership saw fit to literally assault one of our star players, and when a white Oakland cop tried to physically deny the Raptors’ Nigerian team president his moment of glory.
It’s also ugly, or at least bad, that some (let’s face it, American and self-entitled) “experts” refuse to give this to the Raptors cleanly, and are already trying to append an asterisk to their victory. True, KD was down and out, and yes, the Warriors had such bad injury luck that, had Steph Curry’s arm randomly detached on his 47th(!) point in Game 3, few would have been surprised if he later returned with an artificial arm, missing eye, and smallpox diagnosis, and still scored 60 points.
But you know what? Refusing to grant the Raptors a clean title means (a) refusing to acknowledge that the Raptors were, objectively, the best team – and certainly the best defensive force – in the 2019 playoffs, and (b) that the stacked Warriors were winning long before and continued to win long after KD was part of their line-up.
So if we’re going to start throwing out some asterisks, then how about these ones: along their way to the title, the Raptors shut down not only the greatest three-point-shooter in NBA history, but also the league’s regular season MVP. And here’s another asterisk: the Raptors are the first team in NBA history to win a title without a single draft lottery pick on their roster.
Oh, and how about this? The 1,187 points scored by Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam is the second-highest postseason point total by a duo in NBA history. Actually, let me clarify: they’re tied for second. Some guys named Jordan and Pippen also pulled off the same feat a quarter-century ago.
WE THE NORTH
Sigh, let’s also get this out of the way: Canada’s team just won a title with no Canadian players. (Well, not counting Chris Boucher. Shout out to Chris Boucher.) Yes, that’s a reality of professional sports, but is anyone really going to take away the Chicago Bulls’ six titles because MJ is a Brooklyn boy? Does Canada deserve a claim to the Sid Crosby Penguins’ three Stanley Cups? Isn’t Sid’s 2010 Olympics OT winner enough? (Answer: it is the greatest Canadian sports moment of this generation.)
You know what else is particularly Canadian? A quadrilingual Congolese-Spanish athlete with his own cooking show. A bilingual Cameroonian who insists on holding his NBA press conferences in both French and English. A 7-foot-tall multimillionaire Spanish athlete who volunteered on a migrant rescue ship last summer, because, in his own words, “As a fortunate person, that’s the only difference. You should try to help everybody who is in desperation.” You want your Canadian role models? I got your role models right here.
Also Canadian: Nav Bhatia, the diehard Raptors fan and courtside fixture who has attended every Raptors home game since the team’s inception, not to mention all of the team’s historic playoffs appearances, including, oh yes, this one. Arriving here in 1984 with change in his pocket and a foreign engineering degree that Canada wouldn’t recognise, Bhatia, a proud turban-wearing Sikh Indian who has weathered racism throughout his life (hi from the Bucks series), eventually worked his way up to be one of the country’s wealthiest car dealers. Nav is, literally, one of Canada’s top immigrants.
And then there’s Aubrey Graham. Proof not only that Canadians are cool, but that we can also be obnoxious and braggadocious when occasion calls for it. The Golden State Warriors have Kevin Durant and Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, who, not to put too fine a point on it, together claim three of the top ten technical foul counts in the league. Meanwhile, Aubrey – who, by “interfering” with Kevin Durant’s free agency, once earned the Raptors a $25,000 fine – also got a formal warning from NBA management over his courtside antics this year. In the end, the Warriors got Durant. Give us Drake.
Also give us: the beautifully diverse superfans who waited days in the pouring rain at Jurassic Park for a chance to stand in the cold and wet to watch the big game on the big screen. Give us the thousands more spread out at Jurassic Parks across the nation. And the superfans, like my dad, who have been with the Raptors since the beginning at SkyDome, who have watched Toronto sports teams rise and fall and fall and fall, and miraculously get back up again. The regular fans like me, who went to one Raptors game this season, and for what it’s worth Kawhi scored 27 points that night even as the dinos fell 106-103 to the second-best team in the Western Conference.
And, heck yeah, give us all the bandwagon fans who fell in love with goofy Pascal, Chef Mafuzzy, and the rest of the improbable underdogs who swept Canada off its feet, and swept the Warriors out the door of their now-abandoned Oakland arena. They may not know their Jamarios from their Junkyard Dogs, but these fans helped make basketball a national sport, and, lest we forget, also gave us the most stereotypically polite post-victory riot possible.
For one brief, incredible moment, the Raps brought Canada together to support a team of incredibly talented athletes capable of cancelling a dynasty. Give us that.
And finally, give us these guys:
Kyle Lowry playing his heart out, the one so visibly worn on his sleeve these past seven seasons in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan may have said, “I Am Toronto”, but KLow is the soul of this team, a captain’s captain, and, without a doubt, one of ours.
Also, Pascal “Spicy P” Siakam, who had a 26 point / 10 rebound double-double to match KLow’s in the conclusive Game 6. And that wasn’t even Spicy’s greatest performance of the year, that being the Jordanesque 32 point Game 1 against the Warriors. Siakam is the NBA’s Most Improved Player, and, if management plays their cards right, the vanguard of a new Raptors dynasty.
And don’t forget wounded warrior Fred Van Vleet Sr., the only other Raptor to earn a vote for Finals MVP, who drained the five most important three-pointers of his astonishing career. FVVSR may be sick of hearing about his baby bump, but his turnaround these playoffs has been nothing short of incredible. Band-aids up, folks.
Band-aids up also for another bench player, Mafuzzy Chef Serge “Band-aid” Ibaka, who had 15 points in Game 6 and, as far as I’m concerned, every single block of the 2018-2019 playoffs.
The list goes on. Gasol’s clutch defence and nine rebounds in Game 6 were nothing to sneeze at, not to mention his ludicrously stellar performance a game earlier and throughout the playoffs. Norman “Playoff” Powell and Danny “Money Money” Green may have been inconsistent, but they earned those nicknames in oh-so-many of the victories that brought us here. Shout out also to Jeremy Lin, the one-time Linsanity himself, whose career, though sidetracked by injury, brought him to this moment, this team, and this glory.
And then there’s the Klaw himself. Kawhi Leonard. Board Man.
Kawhi all but disappeared under the oppressive tag-team Golden State defence in Game 6, and still came up with 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. (But who’s counting?)
Kawhi may well want to move to Los Angeles. Kawhi may well have played through the playoffs with a leg injury. Kawhi probably is a fun guy, if you get to know him.
And if Kawhi does leave, he may well be the single greatest gun-for-hire Toronto sports has ever seen. But if these playoffs gave us the good, the bad, and the ugly of professional sports, then perhaps it’s appropriate that Kawhi, the silent, taciturn Clint Eastwood to our forgotten foreign realm, gave us our win.
And he did. He brought us an honest-to-goodness NBA title and he did it with skill, determination, finesse, and an admirable disinterest in celebrity culture, idiotic sports interviews, and anyone else’s opinions. Last year, the man sat out a season on injury even as “fans”, sports writers, and his own management tried to force him back. That he quietly accepted a trade to the forgotten north, quietly had a child here (Kawhi’s son is Canadian! #hestay !), less-quietly sunk the 76ers with one of the single greatest shots in NBA history (go ahead, watch it again, the article will be waiting when you get back), and loudly won us a title is a feat for the ages. Board Man Got Paid. That’s more than enough.
STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM
In December 1891, on a chilly day in Springfield, Massachusetts, a young gym teacher, recently arrived from Montreal, found himself trying to settle down a group of teenagers grown restless from being cooped up during the harsh New England winter. Adapting features of a childhood game known as duck on a rock, the teacher nailed up a pair of peach baskets at either end of the Springfield YMCA gymnasium, picked up a soccer ball, and tossed it in the air. James Naismith, born in Almonte, Ontario on November 6, 1861, graduate of McGill University Class of 1888, had just invented the game of “Basket Ball.”
Now, 128 years later, basketball has come home.
The Raptors are the best team in the NBA.
Drake (god help us) got his chip with a dip.
Nav Bhatia was right.
And, from Jurassic Park East to Jurassic Park West, all the way up to Jurassic Park North, Canada has an NBA championship to celebrate.
As we should.