The egg hatches
November 4th 1993, that was the day Canadians were told by NBA commissioner David Stern that both Toronto and Vancouver would be receiving an NBA team all apart of an expansion with the league into Canada. Many were wondering how this would work, how individuals would react to an NBA team in the great white north, Canada is and always will be a hockey market they said. Toronto businessman John Bitove headed the group responsible for operating the Toronto Raptors at the team; a total of $125 million U.S. was the cost for this team, which at the time was the highest for an expansion team. Also apart of the team responsible for The Toronto Raptors birth was former two-time NBA champion and All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who was named the franchise’s first general manager.
The next step in birthing this franchise was deciding the name of the team; the people of Toronto wanted to revive the Toronto Huskies name, which was the name of Toronto’s first NBA team, which played in the first NBA game against the New York Knickerbokers. However management decided they could not use this name because they could not come up with a logo that did not look similar to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the time. Therefore a nationwide contest was held to find the name, color and logos for Toronto’s NBA franchise and as a result the name The Raptors was chosen. The name was clearly influenced by the box office movie hit Jurassic Park at the time.
The colors chosen were purple, black, silver and bright red. Some people loved the jerseys, which featured pinstripes, and the Raptor logo in the middle of the jersey however at the time others believed that the Raptors probably had one of the ugliest jerseys at the time in what looked like a Barney the dinosaur theme but hey that was the 90s for you. Anyways the Raptors general manager Isaiah Thomas quickly assembled his staff and hired former Detroit Pistons assistant Brendon Malone, as the first head coach for the team everything was coming into place the next step was to draft players.
Inaugural NBA season
The 1995 NBA draft was held in Toronto Canada and the Raptors acquired the seventh pick, Raptors fans really wanted to draft Ed O’ Bannon out of UCLA due to a strong NCAA season however the pick ended up being Damon Stoudamire out of Arizona. The point guard was greeted with boos upon his selection similar to what happened in this years draft with the Knicks selecting Kristaps Porzingis, little did Raptor fans know that they would grow to love Stoudamire otherwise known as “mighty mouse” in the upcoming years.
The Toronto Raptors opened up their season at home at the then Sky dome now known as the Rogers Centre and came out with a 94-79 victory over the New Jersey Nets. As excepted from an expansion team the Raptors did not play to well they finished the season 21-61 however the bright spot was Damon Stoudamire the point guard ended up winning rookie of the year With averages of 19.0 points and 9.3 assists per game. As years went by the Toronto Raptors were one of the NBA’s worst teams in the league. Players and staff came and went including their star Damon Stoudamire and Isaiah Thomas, draft picks weren’t panning out and there were even rumors that the Raptors would end up leaving Canada eventually.
Vince Carter era
All was not looking good until the 1998 NBA draft that is the night the Toronto Raptors ended up trading the 4th overall pick Antawn Jamison to the Golden State Warriors for Vince Carter. This was a significant moment for the young franchise because as we all know Vince Carter turned out to be the star player winning rookie of the year, playing in numerous All-Star games and winning the 2000 dunk contest which was arguably the best the contest ever had to offer.
In 2000 the Raptors had a good enough roster to make the playoffs for the fist time in history. The team featured the dynamic duo of Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady and key veterans such as Charles Oakley and Dell Curry. The team would end up getting swept in the first round by the New York Knicks however the following year they would end up facing them again but this time they came out on top after a clutch bucket by Alvin Williams. This defeat by the hands of the dinos ultimately ended the Knicks playoff runs and contention for the NBA championship after they had been so dominate in the 1990’s. The Raptors advanced to the second round for the first and only time and went to war against the Philadelphia 76ers in what ended up being a seven game series.
Star players Vince Carter and Allen Iverson were playing tremendous putting their teams on their backs dropping 50 points in select games and put on a show. The Raptors were one shot away from advancing to the eastern conference finals however Vince Carter ended up missing the game winning shot and the 76ers would end eventually end up going all the way to the NBA finals where they lost against the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1. As for the Raptors things ended up going downhill, Vince Carter would miss numerous games throughout the next three years, coaches were fired and General managers were hired.
Carter leaving & Chris Bosh Era
The Raptors hired Rob Babcok as their new General Manager in 2003 many consider him one of the worst general managers in NBA history hired for the Raptors. Babcock ended up trading Vince Carter after allegations of faking injuries and not giving it his all on the court. Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets for Alonzo Mourning (who didn’t end up reporting for the team) the Williams and a few first round draft picks, many consider this trade very lopsided.
With Carter gone Chris Bosh was chosen as the leader of the Raptors, he managed to become a all-star and came into his own averaging double doubles and lead the team to two consecutive playoff berths and their first Atlantic Division championship in 2007.
Lowry & DeRozan Era and a return to the playoffs
In 2010 during free agency Chris Bosh joined the big three down in Miami leaving the Raptors a mess. They turned into a lottery team and drafted current players such as Jonas Valanciunas, Terrance Ross, Delon Wright and Norman Powell. Currently the Raptors are a top 5 team in the improved east lead by backcourt All-stars and Co-Captains DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. In 2014 and 15 the Raptors returned to the playoffs, won their division and have won a 48 and 49 wins in a season both records.
This season a much-improved team with a 18-12 record going into Christmas break that being with two starters out with injuries. That is a good spot to be in and look for the Raptors to try to finish in the top 3 and hopefully make it past the first round.
Raptors influence on Canadian born players
The Toronto Raptors have been very influential to the country of Canada. Basketball is a growing sport in Canada and especially the Toronto area. In 2013 and 2014 two Canadian born players were drafted with the number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. There are also numerous other Canadian players in the league currently such as Andrew Nicholson, Corey Joseph, Dwight Powell, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Ennis, Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynik, Nik Stauskas, Joel Anthony and Trey Lyes. Many of these players including Andrew Wiggins have stated that Vince Carter and the Raptors were huge influences on them growing up. Wiggins even stated in 2013 that he’d like to play for the Raptors won day. "I would like to say the Raptors, I want to play for them."- Andrew Wiggins on what team he wants to go to. Said after winning Gatorade POY
Wiggins is probably locked up in Minnesota for a long time but there is a possibility that maybe one day he will suit up for his hometown Raptors just like his fellow national team teammates Cory Joseph and Anthony have this season. As a result of Canada producing so much NBA talent there is hope that they could qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and make some noise. All though they came up short for qualifying this past summer many basketball fans in Canada are optimistic that somehow they could still sneak in. We shall see in the coming months if this will be a reality, the Canadians have failed to make the Olympics ever since Sydney 2000.
Canadians perception on the Toronto Raptors influence in Canada:
Prior to the Dallas Mavericks/ Toronto Raptors game, VAVEL USA writer Oti Donkor asked a few fans at the Air Canada Centre what they thought about the Raptors and their influence not only to them but also to Canada. Here are a few responses:
"I think the Raptors are a great thing for not only the city of Canada but also for the entire nation. We want the world to know that we will be a force to be reckoned with in many years to come."
"Vince Carter has been my idol since I was small; I know he didn’t leave on a good note but I forgive him. If it was not for him I do not think id be such a big basketball fan right now."
"The Raptors are great; I mean they are the only team currently in the city making some noise (besides the Blue Jays). I know it’s a long shot but I hope we win a championship sometime in the near future. All we need is a franchise player and maybe a stronger bench and we should be good."
In conclusion The Raptors have made a huge impact in not only Toronto but in all of Canada. As the only team currently residing in Canada the Raptors have adopted a new rally cry and that is We the North. Its our slogan and our battle cry, this author was lucky enough to attend a playoff game in 2014 against the Brooklyn Nets and it was truly amazing seeing all the fans come together to support the team.
The scene outside the Air Canada Centre known as Jurassic Park was literally filled with thousands of screaming fans. The NBA clearly saw how the fans support their team. Through thick and thin the Raptors have always had a top 10-attendance record in the NBA and Toronto is known as one of the loudest arenas in the league after the Golden State Warriors.
Things are looking up for the boys in the north and here’s to hope for a great season, who knows maybe one day another team will return to the great white north perhaps a team in Vancouver? We shall see, but for now its all about the and the lasting influence they made on a whole nation.