Last week, the Toronto Raptors become NBA Champions. You can forgive any long time Raptors fans for re-reading that piece of news. For those who have been with the team since day one, it’s truly amazing to see. The short history of Toronto’s NBA franchise has been one that has seen the organization rightfully described as a laughing-stock, unfairly described as a laughing-stock, but never as a true NBA powerhouse, even over the past few years when they’ve occupied a legitimate place in the upper echelon of the league. From its goofy beginnings, where it was all kicked off by strangely naming the team after a breed of dinosaur from the Jurassic Park movies, almost up to the end of Game 6 last Thursday, the Raptors history was one of struggle, and often ridicule. The team had its share of awful years after its creation, but more than that, it was seen by many basketball fans, players, and commentators to the south, as an afterthought. Even when the team was competitive, it was routinely ignored, barely being televised in the States. The Vince Carter years feel now almost like a blip, and the enduring memory for non–Raptors fans (beyond Vince’s famous Dunk Contest performance) was the superstar demanding to move away, forcing a trade, and taking with him a real chunk of the Raptors’ credibility. After the team found itself with another franchise player, Chris Bosh, well they lost him to greener pastures as well. The less said about Andrea Bargnani the better. Perhaps most hurtful, was the way the team was perceived over the last few years. Instead of facing ridicule for being absolutely terrible, it was criticized for not being able to beat the best basketball player in the last two decades at least. Always competitive, but always ending up trounced by Lebron James. Toronto became Le-Bronto, as he absolutely dominated a Raptors team that never did get enough credit for being willing to field a team to try to take down James, while most other Eastern Conference counterparts were rebuilding, waiting James out. Through it all, the Toronto fan base held firm, something it too deserves great credit for. Routinely producing attendance numbers near the top of the league, this hockey town has spent many years proving it wants this team. Last week, the team gave the town everything it could ask for. They may not have bested James this time, but that’s because he wasn’t even there to be beaten. Instead, they took down the greatest dynasty since Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, the Golden State Warriors.
By the time the NBA Finals started, both Toronto and Canada were more than ready to show both the NBA and its U.S. fans just how far basketball had come up here. We The North had long been the Raptors’ rallying cry, but it felt like it took on even more meaning during the championship round. And, while it could get a little tiresome hearing ESPN pundits tell its audience roughly a thousand times that this franchise represented more than just a city, but rather a country, there was some truth to it. The Raptors run to the title was a welcome reminder that there’s a sort of togetherness still possible in this country that can evade bigger places like the U.S.
Then, the parade, and we were tragically reminded that pain is possible even in these remarkable and powerful shared moments. As millions gathered in downtown Toronto, four people were shot and injured, dozens more hurt in the panicked stampede that followed. At the time of writing, nothing is known as to why this happened. An investigation is underway, and likely we will have news shortly. In the meantime, it’s important to remember the good in all of this. These communal moments do far more good than harm, even though it can feel so hopeless to watch the frightened crowd running in fear. The victims, deserve all the care we can muster, the perpetrators deserve justice, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we deserve things like this, that do more bringing together than tearing apart. There is a type of violence that runs around this modern world of ours that sets out to sow discord precisely in these shared social moments. It seeks to have people become further entrenched, isolated, fearful. We must do what we can to show the strength required to make sure this violence never wins. This hardly means to forget the shooting, but rather to remember everything that brought people together in the first place and to find meaning in that. V