During the glory years of Young Vince, Antonio Davis, Oak, and Boogie Williams, the Air Canada Centre was always sold out. Winning playoff games resulted in crazy drivers zooming up Bay St. with horns a-tootin and Raps’ banners flying from their windows.
However, the negative trifecta of losing McGrady & Bosh to free agency—plus Carter limping out of town after a dreadful trade—has been a massive drag on the Raptors’ fortunes for years. Fan support has deteriorated, and the opportunity to seize the hearts & minds of Toronto sports lovers has been badly missed.
This season may finally be the one in which we can feel the love again. The Raps look like a team ready to win, or at least be competitive.
The NHL has again decided that success in their quest to conquer the U.S. sports market is not something they really want after all, so the owners have locked out the players. The mighty (at least at the box office) Maple Leafs are sidelined indefinitely.
On the diamond, the Blue Jays entered this season with high hopes, but are exiting it with their tail between their legs. Injuries and astonishingly bad play from former stalwarts Romero and Lind blasted their hopes. Southern Ontario sports lovers have no other place to plight their troth than with the emerging Raptors.
Can a puck lover, deprived of his birthright sport, really fall for the local hoopsters? The stars have not completely aligned for the Raps; Steve Nash is wearing Laker colours. His signature on a Raps contract would have produced a frenzy of excitement.
However, a winning team can spawn its own heroes, native sons or not. Toronto is famous as the city of immigrants, and the Raps are the most international NBA team there is, with its players carrying passports from Spain, Italy, Lithuania, & Canada – plus the odd American.
One player will need to emerge as both the Raps’ best player and the Face of the Team. Oddly enough, this gauntlet might be picked up by the Rap with the least service of all, Kyle Lowry. He has said he wants to be the team’s “head of the snake”, which isn’t an image I want to carry around in my head for terribly long, but is vivid enough.
The other candidates all have significant drawbacks. Bargnani’s personality is more Salaryman, as they say in Japan, than Lead Dog. Ditto for DeMar. JV is lively and engaging, but has never stepped on an NBA floor, so it’s too soon for him. Landry Fields is a candidate, but he hasn’t indicated he wants the role and he may not have the talent necessary.
So, I’ll stick with Little Big Man himself, Mr. Lowry. A brash, undersized guard—like the beloved Mighty Mouse, Damon Stoudamire—Kyle could find all the unrequited love of Toronto sports fans at his command. But the Raps gotta win.
If they do, it will be a fascinating year, on and off the court.
Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.