The Sunday Edition

Canada's love affair with the Toronto Raptors — Michael's essay

"Raptors are birds of prey endowed with exceptional eyesight and superior depth perception, with talons that can tear an enemy to pieces. Not that the Raptors wanted to disembowel the Golden State Warriors. It is after all a Canadian team, which means that niceness ranks with Tim Hortons in core values."
Toronto Raptor fan Jogie Musni reacts as he watches Game 6 of the NBA finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors on a large screen in a fan zone in Calgary, Alta., on Thursday. Watching the Raptors' journey to victory was a 'nail-biting comet ride,' writes The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright. (Todd Korol/Reuters)
Listen4:20

There was the vexing problem with the peach baskets. Every time a player sank the ball, somebody had to find a ladder, climb up and retrieve it.

James Naismith of Almonte, Ont., said to hell with this, though there is no real evidence he ever cursed in his lifetime.

He cut the bottom out of the peach baskets to let the ball slip through. Thus he invented basketball.

What an extraordinary thing to say — the man invented basketball.

Yes, we invented poutine, butter tarts and the walkie-talkie. But basketball?

Almonte is a tidy little town near Ottawa, named for a Mexican general who fought against the Americans and was a veteran of the Battle of the Alamo.

Nobody remembers the Mexican general now, but everybody and their cousins remember its most illustrious citizen, James Naismith. After all, he's the man who invented basketball.

In the middle of this week, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, their first in 52 years. It barely rated a mention on the front pages. All eyes and ears were on Oakland and Thursday night.

A mural of Toronto Raptors players is seen on a shop on Queen Street West in Toronto on June 7. The team's run to victory has brought fans from across the country together. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The word "raptor" comes from the Latin word "rapere," which means to seize or take by force. Raptors are birds of prey endowed with exceptional eyesight, superior depth perception, with talons that can tear an enemy to pieces in seconds.

Not that the Raptors wanted to disembowel the Golden State Warriors. It is, after all, a Canadian team, which means that niceness ranks with Tim Hortons in core values.

Canadians come together as one in many ways and for many reasons.

War, of course, unites us as nothing else. So does national tragedy and widespread loss of life.

There are other, more human unifiers. A beautiful one-legged young man jog-hopping across the country. The death of a singer named Gord Downie. The simultaneous birth of five little girls.

The 1972 Russia-Canada hockey series stoked the same kind of national interest as the Raptors. In '72, the country hung on every play of every game. The heroes — Esposito, Henderson, Dryden — became as familiar to us as the names of distant relatives.

I played basketball in high school. I wasn't very good. Or to put it more accurately, I was terrible. 

My basketball heroes were Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Later, my sports enthusiasms migrated to baseball.

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard shoots the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

But I live in a family of basketball fanatics, so the Raptors' rise became table talk. I had to pay attention — especially to the tens of thousands of fans who watched the games in the  pouring rain.

There were men and women, young and old, of every colour, every ethnicity. Diversity thy name is basketball.

The win was splendid. It gave us all a warming sense of national self-worth.

The game that Canada invented had taken the Raptors on a nail-biting comet ride to the very pinnacle of basketball excellence. And whether native born or newly arrived, everybody rejoiced in the T-shirt culture of We the North, emphasis on the We.

The morning after the victory, the rain was gone, the sun was out. People were late for work. A gorgeous day in a cold, dreary spring.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush invited the World Series winners, the Toronto Blue Jays, to the White House.

As the current American president considers Canada a security threat, it is highly doubtful a similar invitation will be forthcoming to the fearsome Raptors from We the North.


Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the essay.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this essay referred to the inventor of basketball as James Sherman Naismith. In fact, he did not have a middle name and one of his grandsons is James Sherman Naismith.
    Jun 17, 2019 2:43 PM ET

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