Honourable senators, on Saturday, May 25, history was made in Toronto when the Raptors won the Eastern Conference championship, advancing to the NBA finals for the first time ever. Thousands of people lined up for hours in the rain just for a chance to watch the sold-out game from outside the stadium.
When the Raptors won, the city erupted into an all-out party. Streets were filled with overjoyed fans celebrating into the early hours of the morning, emptying the streets when the lights turned green to allow traffic to pass and returning home peacefully without any incidents of vandalism, violence or arrests, in true Torontonian fashion.
Basketball was created by a Canadian. The first ever professional basketball game was played in Toronto in 1946, but Toronto did not even get its own team until 1995 when the Raptors were named by Toronto Star readers.
In the short time since formation, the Raptors have become known throughout the NBA for their loyal and diverse fans, epitomized in Superfan Nav Bhatia, who has not missed a single home game since the team’s formation, or in the Raptors mascot, who has been played by the same person for the entire history of the franchise.
The Raptors are not, however, known for winning championships. They enter tonight’s matchup as the clear underdogs against Golden State Warriors, a team entering their fifth straight NBA final appearance, coming off three championship wins. Not a single player on the Raptors was picked higher than fifteenth in the draft. No team before has ever made it to the NBA finals without at least one player being picked higher than fourteenth, but the Raptors are used to facing obstacles and beating the odds both as a team and individually.
Serge Ibaka’s family were forced to flee their home and live without electricity or running water when he was just nine after the deadliest conflict the world has seen since World War II broke out in Congo. Pascal Siakam was scouted at a small basketball camp in Cameroon. When his father passed soon after, he wasn’t allowed to leave America to attend the funeral. When Fred VanVleet was just five, his father was shot to death.
When asked about the Raptors being looked at as the underdogs, Siakam said, “I have always felt like that, my life in general, so nothing different.”
The win on Saturday was serendipitous, with the Raptors scoring 100 points in their hundredth game of the season and the Raptors’ hundredth playoff game in franchise history to win the series for Toronto, the 6ix, by six points in six games. Tonight’s game is serendipitous as well as the NBA finals return to the city where it all started in 1946. Toronto faces off against the team that traded us our first ever star player in Vince Carter back in 1998. Golden State’s star player Steph Curry lived in Toronto as a kid where he would play with Vince Carter while his father was playing for the Raptors.
The odds might not be in our city’s favour to win the championship but that’s never stopped us from making history before, and it definitely won’t stop us from rooting harder for our team than any other NBA city can. Thank you.