(via huffpost.com)

Remembering the Raptors

a/Basketball/Behind the Bench/Sports by

My on-again, off-again relationship with the Raptors began when my family purchased nosebleed tickets during the “Vince Carter years.” We’d cheer and shout “DEFENCE” as prompted by the giant letter D and picket fence displayed on the jumbotron. If we were lucky, we’d catch the cameraman’s eye and make it onto the screen. The pinnacle was being serendipitously chosen to sit on the court during warm-ups; my eyes glued to Carter and to then-point-guard—and personal hero for short people everywhere—Muggsy Bogues.

But as the Raptors’ game wore thin, so did our purple pride. It was about another six years before I found my way back. Chris Bosh, José Calderon, and Andrea Bargnani reignited my Raptors flame—at least for a little while—when current starters like DeMar DeRozan were just creeping in.

Maybe it was moving to Montreal, or a lack of familiarity since the franchise rebuilt after losing Bosh, but the NBA largely fell off my radar.

I still followed the team a little, even if only on Twitter, but I’d be lying if I said I watch more than two full games a season. My mom, who had acquired two tickets to a game against Utah through work, used what was left of my loyalty to lure me home to Toronto.

Going into the game at the Air Canada Centre, I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t even know half the names on the roster. The Jazz, our opponents that night, were coming off a 0-6 losing streak, which gave me high hopes for a win. Certainly we couldn’t be that bad.

While I sported my retro purple sweatshirt, the Raptors donned their camouflage uniforms in honour of the Canadian Forces for Remembrance Day. With veterans lined up across the court, the game started off with a heart-warming rendition of the national anthem.

Fuelled by Canadian pride, or not, the Raptors were in it from the beginning. Within the first minute, Jonas Valanciunas landed the first basket, asserting himself despite only being 21 years old. From there, it was basically Toronto’s game. With Utah putting up a minimal fight, the Raptors held a near 30-point lead for a good half of the game and landed a 115-91 win.

However, the buzz of excitement I remembered was missing. It seemed like the days of a collective call for defence were gone; the cheers after a slam-dunk or three pointers were muted. I don’t think it’s a matter of me being older and more reserved—the win appeared to have more to do with Utah’s ineptitude than the Raptors’ prowess. This less-than-desirable performance makes it a challenge at times for Canadians to be enthusiastic about their team.

I took away a few things coming out of the Air Canada Centre. The first is how to pronounce Valanciunas’ name. The second was the realization that this new incarnation of the Raptors is mediocre, and that’s all I can ask for. I’m not going to get excited about them yet—nor would I expect others to. But being Canada’s only team, they’re all we’ve got. Even if it’s only because of my patriotism, the Raptors will forever have a special place on my Twitter feed and in my heart.