Eight months before the Toronto Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals, their winning season started in B.C.
For four of the last five years, Canada’s only NBA team has held its pre-season training camps at Fortius Sport & Health, an integrated athlete development centre in Burnaby.
“It’s definitely a sense of pride that Fortius was part of it,” Jehan Jiwa of Fortius Sport & Health said.
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“When you work so closely with them you know what they’re like, even the athletes, they’re just such great people, humble people. To see that process all the way through to now heading to the NBA Finals, you see how much they’ve put into being where they are.”
The Raptors held court in Fortius’ gymnasium from Sept. 25 to Sept. 28 of last year before opening their pre-season at Rogers Arena on Sept. 29, where they beat the Portland Trail Blazers 122-104.
Fortius staff and practitioners, who also took care of some of the players’ physiotherapy needs, say they knew the goal of this season was going to be different.
“We just all knew that they were going to really reach for being the very best that they could be,” Jiwa said.
“So it’s great to see that it’s panning out for them.”
The NBA franchise’s stunning come-from-behind victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday is also inspiring B.C.’s domestic professional league.
“It was really exciting to see,” Fraser Valley Bandits’ guard Anton Gill told Global News.
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Gill and his Canadian Elite Basketball League team have been attracting steady crowds at the Abbotsford Centre since their inaugural season tipped off on May 9.
“When fans come and they know what they’re talking about, you know, it makes it that much more fun to play,” Gill said.
Now, the Raptors are giving the Fraser Valley Bandits, one of six elite pro teams in Canada, a big boost.
“This is just going to inspire another generation,” Bandits’ marketing and communications manager Andrew Savory said.
“Twenty-five years from now we’re going to look back on this and just see exactly what it ignited.”
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Some are hoping the Raptors’ trip to the NBA Finals, which was 24 years in the making, will help spark the NBA’s return to B.C.
After six seasons, the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001, although fans say B.C. kept its appetite for pro basketball.
“It’s no longer a bitterness as to how did we lose a team,” Savory said.
“It’s more of a desire for let’s get a team back, let’s show exactly how strong that fanbase is.”
Still, experts say Seattle would likely get an NBA team before Vancouver – so for now, it’s “Go Raptors.”
“As soon as that final buzzer blew you’re texting the people that we’ve worked with really closely, saying, ‘Go get that championship,'” Jiwa said.
“Go Raptors, we’re all behind you.”
The Raptors will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night, as they try to unseat the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.