The Toronto Raptors top 10 moments of a franchise-altering 2019

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /
3 of 5
Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors – Marc Gasol (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

6. The Birth of the OVO Athletic Centre

The BioSteel Centre was opened on the Exhibition Place grounds in 2016. In 2019, it was given a facelift and a new name.

In March of this year, Ujiri flew to Manchester, England to see Drake. While there, he took in one of his concerts and presented him with a ceremonial key to the Raptors training facility. That is because the Grammy award-winning rapper partnered with the Raptors in order to gain the naming rights to the gym.

Thanks to that partnership, the facility was renamed, the OVO Athletic Centre. The signage on the front of the building now bears the new name and owl logo associated with Drake’s brand. That same logo is adorned on the top left of the Raptors practice jerseys.

"“Drake and OVO are an important part of our city’s landscape, our team’s identity,” Ujiri said when speaking about the facility’s new name. “With each step of our partnership over the last five and a half years, we have worked together to build a winning basketball program in Toronto and deliver for our fans and our community. This new naming rights deal for our training facility is a perfect example of the strength of this partnership and the innovative opportunities it can generate.”"

This small act has reinforced the connection between the internationally famous artist and Toronto’s basketball club. Drake, who was given the role of “global ambassador” in 2013, can often be seen courtside cheering on the team. He even has his own stall in the Raptors locker room with a nameplate that reads “the boy”.

Drake’s connection with the Raptors was further displayed this year as he hosted multiple watch parties in Jurassic Park. He was there for road games during the most recent playoffs run. The naming of the OVO Athletic Centre cements the relationship between the basketball team and the rapper.

5. Marc Gasol trade

Arguably, the biggest trade that took place during the 2018-2019 season was the one that sent the Raptors the longtime center for the Memphis Grizzlies, Marc Gasol. It was a move that gave Toronto a player who they could depend upon when they needed rim protection and a big stop.

In order to get the Big Burrito, Ujiri and Bobby Webster had to give up a lot. On Feb 8, 2019, they sent Memphis a package of fan favourite players and their 2024 second-round pick.

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to Delon Wright or Valanciunas after they had spent so much time representing themselves well in Toronto, but fans eventually realized just how valuable Gasol was to the organization.

Not only was Gasol’s defense an undeniable upgrade over JV’s, but he helped make everyone around him better. The offense developed better flow thanks to Gasol’s passing ability and on-court vision.

Gasol was invaluable to the Raptors during their postseason push. He shut down one of the best big men in the league, Joel Embiid. When Toronto met the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, Gasol tortured Embiid, making every night a difficult one and eventually reducing the opposing center to tears. Without Gaol’s presence, the Raptors would likely have not been as successful as they were.