The Toronto Raptors are world champions. No matter how many times you read that sentence, it is part unbelievable and part incredible.
Toronto won its first championship Thursday night after beating Golden State 114-110 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena.
A game after losing all-star Kevin Durant to an Achilles injury, and after losing sharp shooter Klay Thompson to a knee injury Thursday night, the two-time defending champions could not extend the series to a seventh and deciding game, and bedlam ensued north of the border.
Twenty-four years after the Raptors joined the National Basketball Association, they are league champions. It took the Toronto Blue Jays 15 years to win their first World Series. The Maple Leafs won their first Stanley Cup five years after they switched from their days as the Toronto Arenas and Toronto St. Patrick’s. The Argonauts won their first Grey Cup in 1914, six years after the trophy was first handed out, and Toronto FC claimed its first MLS championship a dozen years after the Reds entered the league.
But the Raps’ championship is bigger. Bigger than the Blue Jays’ back-to-back titles in 1992 and ’93. Bigger than the Leafs’ first victory in 1932 and their last in 1967, and bigger than any of the Argo’s 17 Grey Cup titles and TFC’s 2017 championship.
Think about the number of Jurassic Park viewing parties that had been set up across the country, the number of people you ran into that talked about the Raptors, the media coverage of Toronto’s epic playoff run, and the incredible online and social media presence that followed the team.
We haven’t seen that level of engagement before and a big part of that is due to the fact that the Raptors are Canada’s lone NBA team. The Blue Jays’ two titles came when the Montreal Expos were still around and the Maple Leafs had to share Canada’s hockey spotlight with the Montreal Canadiens during the Orginal Six era.
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It’s unfair to compare the Raptors’ title run to Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Gretzky to Lemieux at the ’87 Canada Cup, and Canada’s victory over the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series because those games naturally riveted the entire nation. The Raptors came close, but those three hockey victories are unmatched in terms of their importance to our country’s identity.
Still, Canadian Doctor James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891. A little over a century later, Canada is the home of the NBA champions.