Original Toronto Raptor Tracy Murray on how team became so important to Canadians
'If we didn't do our work day one, there might not be a Raptors organization in Toronto'
The Toronto Raptors' current success can be traced back decades to its distinctive introduction into the NBA, says one of the team's original players.
Former forward Tracy Murray played in the Raptors' inaugural season in 1995, and remembers a grassroots effort to establish the sport in the Canadian athletic landscape, which was largely dominated by hockey at the time.
"If we didn't do our work day one, there might not be a Raptors organization in Toronto," he told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.
"We must have done something different … because we're still here. And I think we connected with the fans early and established a style of play," said the retired player, who now works as an analyst with the UCLA Sports Network and co-hosts a basketball-themed podcast called Fadeaway on BarnBurner.ca.
Murray, who is from the United States, spoke to Chattopadhyay about the Raptor's latest wins, and their past struggles. Here is part of their conversation.
Take me back.… You walk into this Canadian city. The Raptors are an expansion team named after a dinosaur from a Hollywood blockbuster. What was that like?
It was fun. I thought it was a good theme. I thought it was a good idea. And during those early days, you know, they'll play the T-rex growl from Jurassic Park and then you might hear some of the Jurassic Park songs and stuff like that. And when we go to opposing arenas, they would play the Barney songs when we were being introduced. So it was pretty funny. And it was a lot of fun being a part of those early days.
When did it hit you that you were going have to — despite the fact that James Naismith, Canadian, invented basketball — that you were gonna have to teach us Canadians, Toronto sports fans, the intricacies of basketball?
Well clearly it was a hockey town. So we were educating the fans with different things of what to do.
There was a situation ... Toronto has very enthusiastic fans, so they have the little balloon things in the back of the baskets for when you shoot free throws. So I was on the free-throw line one day, and this was the first couple of games of the season, and I'm laughing at the free-throw line while looking up there to shoot my couple of free throws.
We were all growing together. The organization was growing, the fan base was growing.- Tracy Murray
And so I get a question after the game in the locker room: 'Why were you laughing at the free throw line?' I said 'Well, people, this is an educational point now: when we are at the free throw line, you don't wave those things.'
These are like those thunder sticks that you bang together.
Exactly. That's for the opposing team. You wave it at the opposing team when they're shooting free throws and you try to distract them, not us. So that was pretty funny.
But we were all growing together. The organization was growing, the fan base was growing, and there was a lot of education going along with that.
What kind of outreach were you and your teammates doing?
We would go all over eastern Canada, driving, and selling the game of basketball, going to do autograph sessions and take pictures and speak and all kinds of different appearances that we would do ... We were all over the place and you would sell the game of basketball. You go out there, you play extremely hard … just to gain the interest of fans all over Canada, because basketball is here and we wanted it to be here to stay.
I don't think I probably have to remind you that in that inaugural season, the Raps didn't have a whole ton of success, right? You finished the season at something like 21 and 61 — 21 wins, 61 losses.
Right. But that was probably the most success out of any expansion team.
So you felt OK?
Yes. We knew where we were at. We were a bunch of guys nobody wanted. We all wanted a second chance in the NBA. We were like brothers. It was like a brotherhood, you know, a band of individuals brought together to re-establish ourselves. So everybody was on the same page. You know, it's not like we got our heads beat in that year. We lost a lot of games but most of it was within five and 10. They weren't like 25 point blow-outs like you would think with expansion teams.
It was a great success for an expansion team for the first year. It made people excited to come back and see more.
What do you think an NBA championship might mean for Toronto's Raptors fans and Canadians?
It would mean the world to Canadians because of course with [what] Mr. Naismith has done to create the game. But it would mean so much more to Toronto Raptors fans. I mean to now be in this thing for 20, almost 25 years, to have a legitimate shot at a title. It's an amazing feeling for everybody and everybody is excited — they're on edge.
It's been an honour and a privilege and a blessing to play for the Raptors that many years ago. To start off a franchise, and to just see it grow to where it is now, is just truly a joy.
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Written by Émilie Quesnel. Produced by John Chipman, Samira Mohyeddin and Danielle Carr.