Welcome to the refreshed Raptors HQ! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
Why does anyone become a fan of a sports team? The answers to that question range from the ineffable, to the inescapable, to the silly. Many just assume the mantle of their favourite team because it’s who their parents cheered for. It becomes something to do with the family. But if you, like me, discovered a love for basketball in childhood, what were you to do then? There was no rich tradition in Canada to grab onto. And, in my specific case, my family just did not know the score.
Still, to ask why I became a fan of the Raptors means starting with the sport of basketball itself. Growing up in Toronto when I did meant rooting for the Maple Leafs or the Blue Jays. It was the late 80s and early 90s, something of an athletic golden age for the city. Kids were looking to imitate Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run swing or Doug Gilmour’s goal scoring touch on the playground. We’d celebrate high stakes playoff wins as a school. There were all the usual games at recess, except one: basketball. No hoops were installed at the time. It was not an institutional priority.
I don’t know who put a basketball in my hands, or how I came to the sport specifically, but I remember how it felt to play. Unlike virtually every other game, I took to it. I could do the things it required. I was good. In lieu of nets, we’d eventually use the grey metal box that housed the school bell, clanging a ball off its face to signify two points. The motions of the game continued to come easy to me then, and other diversions fell away. Suddenly, there was a sport just for me. And just when I’d discovered this about myself, and fell in love with basketball, I happened to be given a new hat. It was emblazoned with the first Toronto Raptors logo. Everything came together then: basketball was coming to my city.
I won’t lie to you and say my Raptors fandom is pure. I came to the NBA through the church of Michael Jordan. I cheered for the Bulls when his Airness returned to the sport, and relished their vanquishing of the Jazz not once, but twice, for the title. I will not say how many times in a row I watched Space Jam on videotape. These things all blend together in retrospect, one element catalyzing into the next, mixing into one big basketball melange. Jordan retired, Scottie Pippen went to the Trail Blazers, and so I went along. A hat was involved then too, a nifty red New Era Portland number I wore out with sweat and sun into high school.
The badness of the Raptors was a blur then too. Players coming and going, one giving way to another, the years not quite making sense, the numbers adding only to terrible sums. (Just say 16 and 66 to a Toronto basketball fan and you’ll get a sad shake of the head.) There were standout moments of course, things even a 11-year-old can keep in his mind -- did you hear we beat Jordan? How about Damon’s Rookie of the Year award! -- but like many memories, it all becomes something of a mental wash. Despite playing in my city, the Raptors still felt far away. But basketball still loomed large in my mind.
Then Vince Carter arrived and the haze of my young memory crystallizes. The Raptors were my team, and they were on to great things. If I was trying to pick a specific era, a moment in time that solidified my Raptors fandom, this would be it. Somehow, my younger brother and I got tickets to ten games in the 1999-00 season, then another 15 in 2000-01. In a story worn out by its telling, I went to all the playoff games that year, skipped work to watch Game 5 against the Knicks, lost my mind and voice cheering the team on in their war against Allen Iverson’s Sixers. The same people in our section would appear at all the games too. The same chants would break out. The energy was electric. This was the absolute height of basketball in Toronto, and in this country. I’d found my people.
So yes, that’s why I became a fan. I was a quick basketball study, I was given a hat, and I got to watch the best the sport had to offer at an impressionable age. It was 2001, I was going on 17, and the Raptors were here to stay.
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