Toronto Raptors: Five biggest what ifs in franchise history

Tracy McGrady (L) consoles Vince Carter after Carter fouled out against the Charlotte Hornets April 27, 1999. Kevin Willis (r) looks on dejectedly. (BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR) (Photo by Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Tracy McGrady (L) consoles Vince Carter after Carter fouled out against the Charlotte Hornets April 27, 1999. Kevin Willis (r) looks on dejectedly. (BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR) (Photo by Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /
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Vancouver Grizzlies
Vancouver Grizzlies – (Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

What if The Vancouver Grizzlies Don’t Move to Memphis 

In June 2001, the NBA Relocation Committee gave its approval for the Vancouver Grizzlies to be moved to Memphis. Financial factors, including a weak Canadian dollar as well as the effects of a lockout on attendance, coupled with poor on-court performances and bad front office decisions, were driving factors.

Despite local efforts to keep the team in Vancouver, new owner Michael Heisley, doubled back on his promise to keep the team in British Columbia. The team moved, fairing slightly more success on the court but certainly didn’t outperform Vancouver attendance numbers.

The NBA was left with only one franchise. Toronto. 

But what if Vancouver had stayed? What if one of the local businessmen hoping to get involved had managed to secure funding to help sustain the team? What if Stern did as he initially promised and opposed relocation?

There are two major consequences:

Impact on Canadian Basketball

First, there is the impact on Canadian basketball. The Carter Effect dictates that the boom in Canadian talent in the NBA recently has direct lineage to the days of Vince and his days in Toronto. Talent emerged from the woodwork, specifically southern Ontario.

Consider just three of the biggest Canadian names of the past 10 years, kids that would have been 10 years of age or less during Carter’s heyday: Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Wiggins.

But it wasn’t just Vince Carter that had an impact on young kids playing basketball in Canada. Steve Nash also inspired Canadian youth to consider alternative sports to hockey. Moreover, the NBA was experiencing a boom. Players like Shaq and Kobe were electrifying.

Basketball was penetrating a hockey-mad Canadian culture like never before.

If the Grizzlies stay in Vancouver, it can be argued that, with some luck, better draft choices and more on-court success, we see an even greater explosion of Canadian talent, primarily from our western provinces.

Basketball, at the grass-roots level, is Canada’s fastest growing sport (along with soccer). This is in no doubt due to the success of the NBA in Toronto and as a whole

Who knows, if the Grizzlies stay in Vancouver perhaps this continues at a greater level. And perhaps we get to see even more talent like Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Ennis and Jamal Murray emerge.

Marketing Advantage?

The move to Memphis left the Raptors as the sole Canadian franchise. This would certainly benefit the franchise from a marketing standpoint.

Like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Raptors could now claim the entire country as its fanbase. And with basketball growing in popularity amongst its youngest sports fans, this could be a golden opportunity. 

A sole Canadian team, representing the entire country of growing basketball fans, manifests itself into rabid fans at every stop on a Raptor’s road trip. Fans from all over Canada travel to the NBA city closest to home and cheer for the Raptors. The Raptors don’t necessarily track numbers of their fans on the road but if you’ve watched a Raptor’s home game lately, you’re going to see fans singing Oh Canada.

We The North

The remarkable marketing campaign that emerged in 2013/14 took the NBA by storm and was admired by even the gruffest and skeptical of American onlookers. It’s essence was an “us against them” mentality. “We are the North side, a territory all our own. If that makes us outsiders, we’re in,” said David Freeman, director of marketing in 2013.

With this campaign, Toronto was able to brand itself in a way that it couldn’t do if it had a Canadian cousin playing. And, to the delight of those in the accounting department at MLSE, they were able to reap the financial benefits as well.

“We thought, ‘Why are we only speaking to the eight million people in the GTA? We should be speaking to the 35 million across Canada,” MLSE’s vice-president of marketing, Shannon Hosford said.

The campaign did just that. It united Canadian basketball and sport fans. This doesn’t work if there is another squad in Canada. Not as well, anyway.