We the fans: Raptors fever delivers big boost to B.C. basketball
All the excitement around the Toronto Raptors likely to attract even more kids to the booming B.C. hoops scene
Shawn Persaud says playing basketball helped him make new friends when his family moved from Toronto to the Lower Mainland last year.
Now, those friendships are getting even stronger as people everywhere jump on the bandwagon of his beloved Toronto Raptors.
"Seeing the Raptors and seeing how good Kawhi, Kyle Lowry, all of them — it gives me a passion for basketball," said Persaud.
The Raptors host the dynastic Golden State Warriors in game one of the NBA finals on Thursday. Toronto has never played in a finals before while Golden State is appearing in its fifth straight.
Regardless of the outcome, the Raptors success so far has sparked huge interest in a sport that's already in the midst of a sustained participation boom in B.C.
"At the youth level — age five to the end of elementary school — the growth has been consistently about 10 percent per year for the last 10 years," said Basketball B.C. executive director Lawrie Johns. "There are 200 basketball clubs in the province, located mostly in the Lower Mainland, Victoria and Kelowna.
At Drive Basketball Academy in Richmond, co-owner and former star player Pasha Bains agrees that Raptors excitement will likely to lead to even greater growth in the sport.
"I think we're going to see a big uptick," said Bains. "There's Raptors fever going on right now and we're all bit by it."
Johns says part the appeal is that basketball is relatively inexpensive for families.
He also believes the Vancouver Grizzlies deserve credit for the work they did to grow the game during the team's tenure in Vancouver, efforts the Raptors have picked up by holding training camps, exhibition games and clinics in B.C.
"The Grizzlies were extremely active in the community ... and they did a phenomenal job," said Johns. "There was a bit of a bad taste after they left ... but considering the Raptors are Toronto-based and all that means, they've done a phenomenal job too."
In terms of the high performance side of the game, Johns says B.C. will likely never produce the same number of elite players as Ontario, but there's still plenty to brag about, including on the women's side.
"The excitement about the Raptors won't have an immediate influence, but it does validate that basketball is a sport that's good for kids."
With files from Karin Larsen, Rafferty Baker