June 13, 2019. Game 6. NBA Finals. The buzzer has just sounded, and for the first time in the history of professional basketball, a team from outside the United States is the best team in the world. Congratulations, Toronto, Canada. You have just won your first NBA championship!
The excitement surrounding the Toronto Raptors winning an NBA title seemed even greater than a normal championship for any other team. After the Vancouver Grizzlies were relocated to Memphis in 2002, the Raptors were the only NBA team left in Canada. For the last 18 years, the Raptors had been the hoops hope of an entire country.
In a league that is called the National Basketball Association, the Raptors effectively render this name false simply through their existence outside the United States. Therefore, not only has Canada longed to have success at the world’s biggest basketball stage, but on a national pride level, they have wanted respect. The Raptors gave them all of that with the 2019 title.
Although the championship gave Canada the glamor it craved, Canada’s rich basketball history dates all the way back to the game’s roots.
The man who is credited with inventing the game in 1891, James Naismith, is in fact Canadian. He and a few of his Canadian students became pioneers in helping introduce the game all across the country. This resulted in professional basketball being introduced in Canada for the first time.
Although Canada had a few professional teams in the first half of the 20th century, the words “basketball” and “Canada” were finally widely associated together when the NBA decided in 1995 to add two teams in the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. In the few decades leading up to the 90s, Canada had a huge influx of immigrants whose interests were sparked by basketball.
In Toronto, the upstart and gritty nature of the new team that was trying to prove itself resonated well with the same ideas of these immigrants. Super fan Nav Bhatia, an immigrant who escaped from Punjab, India due to religious persecution, found a new sense of purpose and hope attending Raptors games at their inception.
Now, he is a global icon representing Canadian and Indian basketball as the Raptors super fan who has never missed a Raptors home game. In addition, his Superfan Foundation has been able to send thousands of kids from various backgrounds to Raptors games, giving them that greater sense of purpose just as he got before.
By watching the Raptors and Grizzlies, many kids were inspired and started playing more basketball in a hockey-dominated city. Mesmerized by the unique play style of the Raptors that headlined high-flying dunks by Vince Carter, current star NBA players such as Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, and RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks have continued and strengthened the Canadian basketball legacy.
“We’re always the underdogs. We have our own little energy,” Murray said, referring to Canadian players. That energy not only fueled the advancement of the game, but it has brought together people of all walks of life in a truly meaningful way. That is power.