New Brunswick

Raptors mania benefits basketball across Canada, says Moncton Magic coach

The baseball fever that gripped the country during the Blue Jays’ heyday is not unlike what’s happening with the Raptors, and that’s good news for basketball in Canada, including New Brunswick.

'It's certainly changing basketball in this country from coast to coast.'

Toronto's Kawhi Leonard has been a constant for the Raptors throughout the playoffs, and the popularity of the Raptors has gripped the country. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Joe Carter's World Series-clinching home run in 1993 is a seminal moment in Canadian sports history. Tom Cheek's famous "Touch 'em all, Joe" play call as Carter rounded the bases to give the Toronto Blue Jays their second straight title is seared into the minds of sports fans across the country.

The success of the early-90s Blue Jays launched a baseball craze among Canada's youth, and a similar phenomenon happened a few years ago when the club returned to the postseason for the first time since their back-to-back championships.

Now, it's the Toronto Raptors' turn, said Joe Salerno, head coach of the Moncton Magic, the 2018-2019 National Basketball League of Canada champions.

The fervour surrounding the NBA team and the sport is good news for the game in New Brunswick, he said.

Salerno said he sees parallels between Carter's home run and Kawhi Leonard's Game 7 four-bounce miracle to send the Raptors into the third round of the playoffs.

"That's a moment in sports that people in Canada will never forget," Salerno said of Carter's feat. "And I think you could say the exact same thing for Kawhi Leonard's game-winner."

Moncton Magic head coach Joe Salerno speaks to CBC News. He said the Raptors' success will benefit basketball across the country. (CBC)

Toronto's steady rise to success — reaching the championship series for the first time in the club's 24-year history after multiple playoff disappointments — has taken over the news networks, gripped casuals fans and sparked new interest in the sport. It's all anyone is talking about, Salerno said, and could lead to a boost in enrolment overall and greater consumption of the NBLC, which is seeking consistency and growth after eight years of play.

The Magic have their own success story too. The team moved into the new Avenir Centre, saw attendance grow almost 30 per cent for home games and capped it off by winning the championship in May.

Moncton Magic head coach Joe Salerno celebrates after the team's win in Newfoundland. (Joe Salerno/Twitter)

Shortly after they lifted the trophy, registration for the club's summer basketball camps opened, and Salerno said they were three-quarters full within two hours.

"I think a big part of that was due to the success the Magic had this season but also the Raptors and just the buzz of basketball that's in people's ears," he said.

"It's certainly changing basketball in this country from coast to coast."

With files from Harry Forestell


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