Raptors season excites nation
When people talk about Canadian sports, hockey is usually what comes to mind. However, other fan bases are emerging strong and united to cheer on other Toronto teams — most recently the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors — coming off another subpar season — started the 2013–2014 year with a 6–12 record and traded Rudy Gay, their highest paid player. Expectations were destined for a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA entry draft.
Then the incredible happened — one of the youngest teams in the NBA started to find the chemistry to have success and finished with the third seed in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs for the first time in six years.
What followed? A craze of fan support for the Raptors that caught the attention of the entire basketball world.
To promote the Raptors playoff berth, the media marketed the campaign as “We the North,” giving Canada a sense of unity and clarity of where they stand within the NBA.
Through numerous commercials leading up to the Toronto-Brooklyn series, the We the North slogan gave a “Canada against the World” mentality that seemed to ignite the fan base even more across the nation.
Despite being a sport created by a Canadian, basketball is seen as an American game. They dominate the Olympics and are home to 29 of the 30 NBA teams so they get a majority of media attention. The We the North concept not only highlighted Canada’s increased passion for the sport but it also fed a nation that has been starving for playoff basketball.
The fan base in Toronto made headlines across the continent and made a strong case that Canada is ready for a return to basketball glory.
The passion resonated from fans, to players, all the way up to management. This was emphasized by the infamous speech by Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri. He addressed Raptor fans outside the Air Canada Centre before Game 1, and yelled a short but sweet profanity against Brooklyn. The crowd reached a new level of excitement and there was an atmosphere for basketball that has not been seen for quite some time in Canada.
I believe this mindset expands the growth of Canada’s only NBA team and gives each and every Canadian basketball fan a team to root for.
The “one versus all” mentality took effect early on in the series as fans were outraged at the referees for possible blown calls and favouring the well-known, higher-paid roster of the Brooklyn Nets. Twitter erupted with complaints about the NBA, wanting a second round match up of the Miami Heat against Brooklyn and skewing calls in favour of that.
The referees were not the reason the Raptors lost the series, but the passion and pride the fans displayed proved their loyalty and faith they had in their team.
They bought it in completely to the We the North campaign and fought for the Raptors, when no one else could. The promotion did not isolate the Toronto Raptors, but it united them with their fans.
Basketball has never been the sport people think of when they talk about Canada, but with the unity that has been created with the Raptors and the nation, that reputation may soon have to change.
We the North is a statement that will guide not only the Raptors team but the fans countrywide for years to come.