LeBron James, post game 6 interview, May 27, getty images, credits: Ron Turenne.
“Do you hear this? Unbelievable respect and must respect to these fans, to this country. This is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like this in my thirteen year career. This is special and they really appreciate what each team did.”
Those words came straight out of LeBron James’mouth in the post-game 6 2016 interview following the NBA Eastern Conference Finals that pit the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Toronto Raptors.
This is high praise from the big man himself. Praise that elevates Toronto and furthers it’s impact on the nationnal sports scene. Being acknowledged with choice words by the NBA’s biggest star is significant for a team who has struggled to earn respect in the past and still fighting to be seen as a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.
In fall of 2015 Toronto succumbed to Blue Jays fever, In spring 2016 the city experienced a full-on Raptors-mania. With a 56-26 campaign the Raptors earned their third consecutive division title and their first-ever 50+ wins season.
As impressive as that sounds Toronto has been struggling in the playoffs for the majority of their 21 year tenure. Just last year they were swept 4-0 by the Washington Wizards. 2016 would be different. This is the year where the Raptors broke the mold and prove themselves a force to be reckoned with.
The first step for the Raptors was winning their first playoff round since 2001, a feat that was accomplished in a 7 game series versus the Indiana Pacers. Then came the Miami Heat. Toronto won the season series 5-2 and prevailed once again in a 7 games during the playoffs. Their next opponent would be no other than LeBron and the Cavaliers.
Analysts and experts had already written off the Raptors and predicted a series sweep by Cleveland believing Toronto had exhausted all of it’s resources. After all many thought the Raptors had presumably scarce chances to give a competitive performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then something happened. Toronto refused to give up. Down 0-2 in the series but not out, the underdog Raptors managed to even up the series 2-2 prompting raised eyebrows and dropped jaws from fans, analysts, news outlets and sports publications alike.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith even apologized on-air to the organization, its fans and the entire country of Canada.
“I gotta be a man of my word and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere because I certainly thought that this was going back to Cleveland, 3-1 … with the Cavs closing this series out on Wednesday night so I wouldn’t have to go back to Canada and go through customs and all that other nonsense.”
-Steven A. Smith
CBS Sports ran a poll among its viewers to determine which of the final four team fans thought would win the coveted NBA championship. The poll listed Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and other. The joke here of course, is that Toronto had been snubbed out of it’s rightful final four slot and contender position.
It didn’t take long for Toronto Mayor John Tory to retaliate.
“We’re not the slightest bit offended,” said Tory. “In fact, we’re used to being underestimated.”
Toronto mayor John Tory also got into the post-season momentum by defending the city’s honour.
Tory went on to tout Toronto’s stature and exploits before proclaiming that Toronto would win the NBA championship this year before adding, “Especially since basketball was invented by a Canadian. You’re welcome!”
The events on the court would prove Tory wrong but Toronto can take pride in the mayor’s defensive stance.
Despite the valiant efforts of Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry the Raptors would lose after facing elimination in a crucial home game 113-87.
Although they lost the series, the Raptors—and the city of Toronto and to a degree, all Canadians everywhere— won. Yes, you read that correctly, won. Few if any expected Toronto to put in a spirited contest against Cleveland, but that’s exactly what they did. Versus LeBron and the Cavaliers the Raptors had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They lost in front of their fans at home who gave them a standing ovation. Oh, and words of praise from LeBron. Not a bad send-off, truly.
The Raptors won by proving their detractors wrong. After all they weren’t supposed to make it this far, where they? Toronto had a standout season in which won their third consecutive division title all while tallying an impressive 56 wins before standing tall in the playoffs to reach the Eastern conference finals. Judging by the team’s performance, their fans’ enthusiasm, I think basketball in Toronto is doing just fine. They lost the series to Cleveland and won at the same time.
The Raptors effectively sent out a message in the 2016 regular season and perhaps even more so during the playoffs: “Basketball does belong in Toronto—respect us, eh!”