Hey Edmonton: 5 reasons to jump on the Toronto Raptors bandwagon
It's time for us to take ownership of Canada's NBA team
Being a Toronto Raptors fan in Edmonton can be a lonely deal.
Especially for someone who spent 30 years in Ontario, 11 years in Toronto and the last 23 years loving an oft-beleaguered franchise that's finally hitting its stride.
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While the rest of Edmonton gears up for the NHL playoffs their team badly missed, Raps fans keep our excitement for Saturday's Round 1, Game 1 match-up with the Washington Wizards under our Raptors tuques (if we dare wear them).
While the rest of Edmonton decides which other NHL team they'll throw their support behind, we quietly fill out our NBA brackets and send them back to our friends in the East.
And while the rest of Edmonton pulls from their drawer of hockey sweaters, we pick through that little back corner of Champs, where they keep the baby Raptors onesies and the XXL Jonas Valanciunas jerseys that don't fit us, as the attendant shrugs, "Everything we've got is out there."
But Edmonton, I'm telling you. There's good basketball happening over there at the Air Canada Centre in the Ontario capital. And the only Canadian team in the National Basketball Association deserves your attention.
It's not too late.
Here: 5 reasons to jump on the Raptors bandwagon.
1. The Raptors are really good this year
Historically, the Raptors have been pretty pathetic. Even for an expansion team, they took their sweet time getting good, and only made the playoffs when an explosive and dynamic superstar arrived: Vince Carter, whose raw talent we've never seen the likes of in Toronto again. Carter was with the Raptors from 1998 until 2004.
But the Raptors' fortunes started to change for the better in 2013-14. And finally, this year, we have the team that head coach Dwane Casey (a strong candidate for coach of the year) has been promising us for several seasons.
Building around all-star backcourt DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors organization has assembled a talented supporting cast and one of the deepest benches in basketball.
They're fun to watch. Offence AND defence are consistent for the first time in… ever? And the team came one overtime loss shy of winning 60 games this year.
2. They buck the superteam trend
Back in the summer of 2010 when LeBron James decided to take his talents to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, we didn't know just how much he was changing the game. Ushering in the "superteam" era, James turned the NBA into a league that stacks teams with random superstars hoping for chemistry to strike and egos not to take over. Often, it works.
The Raptors, however, are very much not that. We don't have one bona fide superstar, let alone three of them. We have team leaders and we have underrated all-stars, no doubt.
But more than that, we have a group of guys who play team ball. And we have a core who have been allowed to grow with the organization to reach their full potential. Over the next few weeks, we'll put that model to the test.
3. DeMar DeRozan
What can you say about a guy who's been a Raptor his entire career — and has steadily improved every year up to and including this one, his ninth season?
A player who was a Raptor when they lost 60 games in 2010-11, and who led the team to win 59 games this year? A guy who's settled into his city, whose daughters have lived their whole lives with Daddy in a Raptors jersey?
A soft-spoken guy who isn't the most comfortable in the limelight, but used his fame this year to shed light on mental health by sharing his own struggles with depression? A guy with several offensive weapons who used them all to drop 52 points against a plucky Milwaukee Bucks squad back in January?
I say, this is a guy who's incredibly easy to cheer for.
4. You could get free wings
After years of begging establishments to switch just one of their TVs away from middle-seed, all-American NHL match-ups, Toronto Raptors fans finally have a place to congregate.
The Provincial Kitchen & Bar in south Edmonton has committed to playing Raptors playoff games.
And if the Raptors score more than 100 points (highly likely since they've had one of the most productive offences in the league, averaging 111 points per game), everyone in the house (even grumpy non-Raptors fans) will get a serving of wings or ribs on the house.
5. Cause it's Canada, man
I hope one day the West will take ownership of the Raptors the way we have of the Blue Jays.
Because the Toronto Raptors are truly Canada's team.
From a play-by-play announcer who loves to shout "all the way from Red Deer" when someone takes a long three-pointer; to its #WeTheNorth hashtag that seems, frankly, pretty cute coming from way up here (#WetheNORTHnorth); to the basketball camps the Raptors run across the country — it's obvious they've claimed the entirety of of this vast, cold, sports-loving country as their own.
It's time we claim them back.