How Toronto Raptors' breakthrough year helps inspire Canada's next generation of basketball players
'It's just not about basketball, it's about the power of sport to bring people together': Glen Grunwald
Fans in the Scotiabank Arena left heartbroken after the Toronto Raptors lost a nail-biting Game 5 of the NBA Finals by one point to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.
But according to Nova Scotia hoops legend Steve Konchalski, the team's historic run has already energized Canadians' fandom for basketball, and it could spark a new generation of players in the next 10 to 15 years.
"Our next-door neighbour has a young teenage boy, and every day, he's out there with a hockey stick and a hockey net and, you know, shooting the puck for the last two or three years. And in the last month, they put up a basketball net, and he's out there shooting hoops every day," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
"I think that's a real good indicator of what's going to happen across the country going forward."
According to Glen Grunwald, former Raptors general manager and current president and CEO of Canada Basketball, the Raptors' performance and Canadians' support for the team exemplify the game, which was originally innovated by Canadian James Naismith in 1891.
"It's just not about basketball, it's about the power of sport to bring people together," he said.
"I think this team has shown us such great resilience and toughness, and in a way, sort of a Canadian humility about how they're approaching this. They're not thumping their chests or boasting how they're the better than everyone else. They've really performed in a very admirable way."
The next generation
Canada's basketball successes reach beyond the NBA as well. The under-19 men's basketball team are the current International Basketball Federation (FIBA) champions, winning gold in the 2017 FIBA under-19 World Cup in Egypt.
"Our women's program is also going very strong, too," added Grunwald. "We're ranked fifth in the world, and our women will be working to qualify for their fifth-straight Olympics. So lots of things across the board."
Konchalski, the longest-serving university basketball coach in Canada, is also part of a new initiative to grow youth basketball in the country, as part of the newly announced Jr. NBA Canadian Leadership Council.
"It's age-appropriate, it's safe and it's fun, and hopefully, it'll encourage kids to get active and enjoy the sport as a participant, as opposed to just being a fan," Grunwald said of the initiative.
Grunwald also said that Canada's coaching development program is ranked third in the world, according to FIBA.
"Growing our coaches is just as important as growing our players," said Konchalski, who pointed to several Canadians currently coaching in the NBA — Roy Rana with the Sacramento Kings, Scott Morrison with the Boston Celtics, and the Charlotte Hornets' Jay Triano, a former Raptors coach — as standout examples of Canada's coaching pedigree.
The 6ix in 6?
The future generation of basketball in Canada, then, appears to be based on a solid foundation. But as far as the Raptors' immediate future, the most important lesson, according to Konchalski, is to never underestimate a team like the Golden State Warriors.
"That team is a dynasty, and dynasties die hard," he said, adding that Raptors fans shouldn't fall into despair after last night's loss.
The Warriors' win has forced a Game 6 in Oakland on Thursday. The Raptors lead the finals 3-2.
Konchalski went on to guess that the team might have a better chance of winning the series on the road instead, without the weight of the entire Greater Toronto Area's anticipation metres away from the buckets.
"The team looked a little stressed, maybe a little fatigued from all the emotion associated with the championship run. And I think they'll catch their breath and I think we'll get the win on Thursday night out in [Oakland]," he said.
"From a point of view of Raptor fans — well, I think, you know, if we waited 24 years, we can wait a few more days," said Konchalski.
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Mary-Catherine McIntosh and Julian Uzielli.