Rick Zamperin: Will basketball ever replace hockey as Canada’s favourite sport?

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri speaks to the media during a year end press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri says he thinks basketball will one day supplant hockey as Canada’s top sport.

Ujiri, a couple of weeks removed from celebrating the team’s first NBA championship, was asked that question in his year-end news conference on Tuesday.

“That’s a touchy subject,” Ujiri said with a hearty laugh. “Shanny’s my boy and so is Kyle,” he said, referring to Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Kyle Dubas, “but I really do think so. I really do.”

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“The way basketball is growing just around the world, we saw the following,” said the 48-year-old native of Zaire, Nigeria. “I do think that we are lucky that we’re in a place like Canada that there’s room for baseball, there’s room for basketball, there’s room for hockey, there’s room for soccer,” added Ujiri.

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Basketball was invented by Canadian Dr. James Naismith in 1891, but it’s a sport that has been dominated by Americans, although most U.S. citizens would point to football or baseball — America’s national pastime — as their sport of choice.

Yet ever since the Raptors went on their epic run and lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy following Game 6 of the NBA Finals, then attracted upwards of two million people to their championship parade in downtown Toronto, some have suggested that basketball will one day surpass hockey as Canada’s top sport.

Enrolling your child in a basketball camp or league is way cheaper than hockey. True.

Booking a gym with a couple of hoops is much easier than renting ice time. Also true.

Playing basketball is easier than hockey, too, as there are no skating lessons required. Very true.

Some people also argue that more immigrants brought to Canada from non-hockey playing countries will naturally curb the fandom around the coolest game on Earth.

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So will hoops replace hockey as Canada’s favourite sport?

In my opinion, no. And here are two examples why it won’t. Baseball and soccer.

Think about it. Baseball and soccer are also ‘easier’ to play compared to hockey. There are soccer pitches and baseball diamonds all over this country and accessibility on almost any spring, summer and fall day isn’t a problem. Those two sports are also much cheaper to play than hockey as well.

The Toronto Blue Jays became the first Canadian baseball team to win the World Series when they went back-to-back in 1992 and ’93, creating an enormous swell of new fans to the sport from coast to coast.

Millions of Europeans, Africans, South and Central Americans, Asians and others have come to Canada — with soccer as their first and only love — and yet hockey remains our favourite.

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Despite having only seven teams in the National Hockey League compared to the 24 based in the United States, we still view the NHL as Canada’s league.

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The list of our country’s greatest sporting achievements is dominated by hockey. The 1972 Summit Series. The 1987 Canada Cup. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Hockey remains our favourite because it is our game — we invented it. We are the best hockey nation on the planet and that means a great deal to us.

Basketball has, and will continue, to make amazing strides in this country. But hockey will forever be the closest to our heart.

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