On March 11th, 2020 the NBA suspended the season indefinitely due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In response to the absence of Toronto Raptors basketball, TSN and Sportsnet are replaying the Raptors 2019 playoff run.
It’s hard not to be taken over by the eerie feeling of empty streets in the typically over capacity home city of the Toronto Raptors.
We are amid a global pandemic. NPR reports that there have been over one million confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 89,000 people have died as a result of the virus. These staggering numbers are hard to comprehend for most Canadians, who are stuck at home in quarantine.
In the face of a global pandemic, it seems trivial to pump out Raptors content. Suddenly Norman Powell’s nagging ankle issues don’t feel as important as they did a few months ago.
The future of the 2019 NBA season is uncertain. Play has been suspended and there is no current timeline to when it will resume. The realities of COVID-19 change each day. It’s hard to even predict what new information presents itself from hour to hour.
What we do know is that around the world and here in Toronto, the directive to citizens has been to stay at home as much as possible.
This is in stark contrast to the call of the city last year which was to pack Scotiabank Arena shoulder to shoulder. Fans all around the city became deeply invested in the 2019 Raptors playoff run. For the first time in the history of Toronto’s sports bars Raptors games were taking precedence over Leafs’ games. The voices of Jack Armstrong and Matt Devlin served as the background noise to jubilant hugs and high fives from strangers turned family through the success of the team.
From all reports, it appears as if Toronto’s famous “Jurassic Park” fan area will be empty all summer. That fact would have seemed inconceivable to the fans who lined up there last year as early as 5AM to be able to experience the next best thing to being inside Scotiabank Arena.
The only people left working in the world are “essential workers”. Although sports are meaningful they are certainly not an essential service. The choice to suspend play in the NBA is one that any rational person would agree with.
However, sports absence has been felt far and wide. The communal aspect of rooting for a city’s hometown team is one people have longed for.
In response to this feeling, TSN and Sportsnet began re-running the Toronto Raptors historic 2019 championship run. Each day since Friday, March 20th, the networks have aired one of the games from that season’s NBA playoffs.
These reruns have been the closest feeling we’ve had to the buzz that permeated the city last summer. Raptors fans live-tweeted through Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 winning buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers as if it were happening in real-time. For a second it served as a reminder of when our biggest problems centered around Leonard’s impending free agency.
Other than remaining home and practicing social distancing, It’s hard to know how to respond to COVID-19.
There’s a certain level of guilt that comes with feeling happy and positive. Are we allowed to enjoy ourselves when there are so much death and uncertainty going on in the world?
There’s a feeling that you should constantly be in a somber mood. We feel pressured to watch around the clock news coverage to fully take in and sit through the magnitude of what we are going through.
While we do need to remain as informed as possible, it is important to remember that even now there is space at this moment for escapism. It is healthy to take time to put down the heavyweight the world has placed on our shoulders. In times like this, it’s important to be alert and informed but we should also call on each other to take moments to know that these situations are bigger than us.
Sports are not essential but they are valuable. Even in good times, sport can act as a respite for the pressure of everyday life. There are people all around the world who begin long, hard shifts of important work with a glance at an NBA schedule on their phone. Hoping to have an escape to look forward to.
One day basketball arenas will begin to fill up again. Crowds of strangers will become family in Jurassic Park while anticipating buzzer beater moments. The weight of this will lift off of our shoulders and our problems will shrink back down to whether players with expiring contracts will stay or move on to another team.
Until then it’s safe to take a moment and slip back into old routines. Whatever that is for you. Even now it’s okay to sit back and take in bad reality TV shows. You shouldn’t feel guilty about having happy hours over Zoom calls.
And if sports act as your escape, this is an opportunity to slip back into that familiar space. This time last year many people knew the only thing they could count on is 7PM tip-offs.
This is an opportunity to re-establish that routine.
The reruns of these games can serve as a reminder that the eerie feeling of empty Toronto streets hasn’t always been there and they will not last forever. These reruns will culminate in an old championship victory that will feel like a new championship victory.
This victory will bring back images of the millions of people who gathered last summer for a championship parade on the same empty streets we see now. And those images will serve as a reminder of the hope and anticipation that those times will return.