June 13, 2019 was a very good day for Canadian basketball fans. After watching the Toronto Raptors—the only Canadian team in the entire NBA—struggle for years, long-time fans were finally rewarded. Led by the newly-acquired Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors finally defeated the Golden State Warriors and won the NBA championship, literally leading Canadians to take to the streets and party in the middle of intersections, even on busy highways. But how did this lone Canadian basketball team come to exist in the first place? When did the Raptors start?
Want Some Maple Syrup With Yer Basketball?
Even though the Raptors are the odd ones out in the NBA, basketball was actually invented by a Canadian, the physical educator Dr. James Naismith, in 1891. Because of the sport’s Canuck roots, it’s a little surprising that Canada doesn’t have more teams. An older team called the Toronto Huskies played in an early version of the NBA for one season in 1946-47, but it took until 1995 for any other Canadian teams to break into the Association.
Canada’s Jurassic Age
In 1993, a Canadian organization applied to create a professional Canadian basketball team. The next year, the NBA visited to discuss the idea of a Canuck team joining the league. The Canadian representatives agreed to host games in a nearby stadium while another arena was being built and voilà, Canada had its first legitimate basketball team, eh? But there was just one thing missing: a name.
Canada, being a friendly nation, reached out to the people and asked them to brainstorm some ideas. The Toronto Beavers (why), Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rexes, Tarantulas, Terriers (huh?), and Towers all fell before the mighty Toronto Raptors.
Why did the city choose this particular name? The committee never confirmed their reasons, but you have to think that Jurassic Park’s extreme popularity in the 1990s had something to do with it, right?
In any case, the team didn’t just draw inspiration from a Steven Spielberg movie. In a sweet gesture, one of the newly-minted team’s colors was called “Naismith Silver.” D’aww.
Dribbling Like Babies
Along with the Vancouver Grizzlies (now based in Memphis, Tennessee), the Raptors were one of the first non-American teams to join the modern NBA. And boy, did they ever make an entrance. In their first three seasons, the Raptors finished…in last place in their division…every time. Ouch.
After failing to impress for three years in a row, the Raptors finally locked down their first MVP: Vince Carter, whose skills as a guard-forward helped Toronto make it to the playoffs for the first time in 1999-2000. Since then, the team has gone through highs and lows, cresting with a sublime 2019 victory.
After riding high on their first-ever NBA championship, Raptors fans were saddened to hear that Kawhi Leonard, the “fun guy” who almost single-handedly led the team to victory (and briefly became a meme thanks to his charmingly strange laugh) was leaving to join the LA Clippers. Cue all of Toronto tearfully singing “My Heart Will Go On.”
What lies in store for the Raptors? Will they go extinct without their star player? Or will they rise to the occasion with a new MVP? Only time will tell. We’ll be watching.