We the West? Why B.C. basketball fans are rooting for the Raptors
Toronto team fills void left by Grizzlies' departure from Vancouver
The Grizzlies are long gone, but Vancouver basketball fans are still getting their NBA fix.
The Toronto Raptors take on the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference final Wednesday after a thrilling win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, and fans across the country are throwing their support behind Canada's sole professional basketball team.
It's hard not to jump on the bandwagon after Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard sank a fadeaway jumper in the last seconds of Sunday's game, beating both the buzzer and the 76ers.
But Vancouverites Joleen Mitton and Trevor Jang are not bandwagoners. The superfans have been rooting for the Raptors for years and joined The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn to hype their "home" team before they match-up against the Bucks.
"Kawhi's my man now," said Mitton, who also plays for and manages All My Relations, a Vancouver Indigenous women's basketball team.
Mitton said it is the individual players that draw her to a team and Leonard did that for her before he sank the winning shot against the 76ers, which Mitton called a "moment in Canadian history".
Our reaction to Kawhi Leonard’s historic game 7 buzzer beater in Vancouver BC at the Red Card Sports Bar!!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Raptors?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Raptors</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/kawhileonard?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@kawhileonard</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Raptors?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Raptors</a> <a href="https://t.co/RSIuh6RvMn">pic.twitter.com/RSIuh6RvMn</a>—@Jmichek
Jang has been a Raptors fan since he was a young teen. Now 26, he appreciates how the team engages with fans across Canada.
He said by playing pre-season games and hosting charity events in Vancouver, the Raptors make "a cross-country effort", even if it doesn't fill the gap the Vancouver Grizzlies left when they moved to Memphis, Tenn., after the 2000-01 season.
Mitton may be a Raptors supporter now, but she does still dream of a local franchise.
"Give us another basketball team!," she pleaded, and pointed to the thriving ball culture she sees at local courts around Vancouver as an example of why a team would work in the city.
Both Mitton and Jang will be glued to tonight's game, but both agree it won't be a cruise to victory for Toronto.
Despite the epic win Sunday, Mitton said the team "seemed a little shook the last game" and they need to come on strong if they want to buck the Bucks.
"Shoot the ball," advised Mitton. "Don't be hesitant."