The immediate impact of the Toronto Raptors championship run on fans was unquestionable. However, it is also shaping the future of the NBA as well as basketball across Canada.
Over a month removed from their dramatic series win over the Golden State Warriors, the Toronto Raptors are on top of the basketball world as NBA royalty!
The immediate impact of the Raptors’ run was unprecedented.
Coast-to-coast, viewing parties sprung up, as people came together in joyous ecstasy to support Canada’s team. Everywhere you went, there was (and still is) a We The North banner.
New and long-suffering fans are buying Raptors merchandise in droves (New Balance products have never been more popular).
It all culminated in the championship parade, as over a million fans flocked the streets of Toronto (myself included). Overcrowding, poor planning and numerous delays, including an unfortunate incident, couldn’t dampen people’s excitement. After all, this was a once in a lifetime experience.
Now that it is over, what comes next? Like everything else in our society, things continue to change daily.
We need to consider the long-term, bigger picture implications of the Raptors victory for not only the NBA but Canada basketball as a whole. Here are three of the most important.
Canada: A basketball haven
The Raptors’ unprecedented success in the playoffs is the start of a 2nd wave. The team’s heroics will no doubt inspire a new generation of basketball talent, young boys and girls, much like Vince Carter did at a dunk competition so many years ago.
Demographics play a key role here. With 20 percent of the population identifying as visible minorities, basketball is already something that resonates with a lot of people— it’s more affordable than hockey and a global game. The Raptors’ performance pushes the dial even further.
Going forward, basketball could become this country’s top sport, overtaking hockey. Canada’s under-19 men’s basketball team recently won the gold at the 2017 FIBA under-19 World Cup in Egypt and there are numerous initiatives to help grow youth basketball.
With Nick Nurse at the helm, Canada’s senior men’s basketball team is in good hands and looks poised to make some noise too, with a roster full of NBA talent. It’s an opportunity for continued momentum, taking those young fans won over by the Raptors’ success and getting them behind the national program, cheering Canada on in basketball as they do in hockey.
Even with the dramatic changes that NBA free agency wrought on the Raptors, the ingredients are still there for a basketball love affair.
Developing a winning mentality
By winning an NBA title, the Toronto Raptors can now claim to have championship pedigree (with or without Kawhi Leonard). Throughout the team’s short history, there’s always been a lack of success and disappointment. Fan expectations, never overly high to begin with, were consistently shot down time and time again.
By capturing their first NBA title, the Raptors made winning a part of their DNA. They’ve proven that they can win, to themselves and others and it should reflect in their play.
The Raptors now have confidence, a swagger. In the NBA this is colloquially referred to as championship DNA— you don’t just hope to win, you EXPECT to win!
For obvious reasons, the ceiling will be much lower next season. However, this is still an invaluable shift in mentality that will pay dividends going forward for the Raptors as an organization. At the very least, it should help attract proven talent.
Dramatically altered NBA free agency
In winning the championship, the Raptors set the tone for NBA free agency, advertently and inadvertently. This is arguably the biggest fallout of their victory last month.
During the Finals, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson went down with severe, long-term injuries. Obviously, the Raptors weren’t responsible but the timing couldn’t be worse. Teams were clearing out cap space to make max offers. While there should be interest, there’s now a high degree of risk involved— you’re paying for what these players were, not necessarily what they will be.
Apparently, this did not deter the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors from signing each of these players to a max contract. Durant will miss all of next season in rehab, while Thompson is expected back early next year.
These were the biggest dominoes to fall in free agency but only a fraction of all the moves and deals made throughout the NBA. With the Warriors wounded, teams are looking to build upon the Raptors’ unlikely success and pursue a championship.
The biggest mystery of free agency was Kawhi Leonard.
Going in, it seemed the Raptors had all the momentum. They won the championship. Leonard seemed to have embraced the city, country and its passionate fans and received total support throughout the season from the Raptors’ medical staff and his teammates. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, he cited the importance of load management.
From a pure basketball standpoint, he had every reason to return too— he loves to win and this is a potential dynasty in the making. With a solid veteran core of Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry, rising star Pascal Siakam, promising young players like OG Anunoby and Masai Ujiri at the helm, Leonard could maximize his prime.
Despite all this, things went south (literally).
After a week of intense speculation and unsubstantiated rumours, Leonard shockingly announced that he will be signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. Compounding this late-night bombshell, he seemingly orchestrated a trade for Paul George (who had recently signed a long-term deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder). The price was steep and now all the pressure is on the Clippers to deliver.
While many Raptors fans are devastated with Leonard’s decision, they also need to put things into perspective. He didn’t break any promises, we won a championship and most importantly, the team’s future is still bright, especially as Siakam continues to develop.