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The Hardest Part is Letting Go

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It’s almost over.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

As I sat there after Game 3 watching videos and memes trickle in, I stopped caring about granularly analyzing what went wrong in this game and in this playoff run as a whole. I watched Dwane Casey aimlessly talk about how the Raptors have to play for pride in Game 4 and not get swept on their home court. It all felt so utterly meaningless. You spend an entire season talking about challenging for a title, how a ring is the ultimate goal, and in less than a week, all you’re left playing for is your ego. What else is he supposed to say?

One of the longest tenured coaches in the NBA, there’s a very real chance that this is Casey’s last stand. Think back to when he took over in 2011 — think back to how much things have changed. For some of us, their growth mirrored our own.

As someone who has been becoming open to the idea of the Raptors moving on from Dwane Casey, I felt a pang of guilt. It’s not about a qualitative assessment of his performance as coach, but more the era that he’s overseen. Spend long enough entrenched within a fanbase like he has, even letting go of that familiarity becomes arduous and difficult. Casey is one of us now.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

How do you even properly eulogize a team that meant a lot to a deprived fanbase, but embarrassed itself in the end? Even if you remove yourself from the disappointment of how shit has gone recently, at some point the roller coaster stops becoming a fun ride. 2014 was great, 2015 ended badly, 2016 was great, 2017 ended badly. That is exhausting. With free agency looming and stagnation staring us in the face, something is going to have to give.

There’s a bit comedian Hannibal Buress did about how sports form the goalposts around which he marks his memories. He talked about how a whole 20 years of his life’s memories use Kobe Bryant’s career milestones as landmarks. I started thinking about why this means so much, why it hurts to be disappointed, why are we disappointed in the first place, what are we so afraid of? Those are difficult questions to answer, but they served as a reminder to be appreciative of what we’ve had for these past 4 years.

There will be plenty of time to talk specifics and appreciate the entire era as a whole. But as we near the possibility of the end, I find that anger and disappointment are replaced with nostalgia and sadness — nostalgic of how good things were and sad that they will quite literally never be that way with this cast of characters again.

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Media Day Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
  • Think back to how you felt when Lowry put his head into Scola’s chest during a timeout of Game 1 of that Miami series — how raw it felt to see him need one of his oldest homies to lean on while he struggled on the court.
  • Think back to how you felt when Woj dropped that tweet announcing Lowry was re-signing 3 years ago; how it felt when he tweeted out that instagram photo of him in that purple Raptors retro jersey to announce his decision.
  • Think back to how you felt when DeMar cancelled all his meetings to re-sign on the first day of free agency.
  • Think about how it felt when Toronto Tupac partied through the Yonge-Dundas square after we reached the Eastern Conference Final.
  • Remember when Lowry hit that step-back to give us the season series over Cleveland last year?
  • Think back to when Rob Ford and Drake sat at the most surreal presser I’ve seen in my life to announce the All-Star Game coming to Toronto.
  • Think back to when Casey made the bold call to play Norm and won us Game 5 against the Pacers.
  • Think about all those god damn interviews with Lowry and DeRozan.

I thought about when LeBron took a second from celebrating his series win in the Eastern Conference Final to compliment the crowd in the Air Canada Centre, as they gave a standing ovation in a losing effort to the most successful Raptor team in franchise history. As the Cavs lead ballooned to 20 in Game 3 last night, I questioned whether there would be a repeat of that if the series ends in Game 4.

There are people scattered all across the spectrum of how to feel about the Raptors. Are the successes only celebrated because of the relative abject disaster this franchise used to be? Does that cheapen your experiences? I can’t tell anyone what their barometer for enjoyment and appreciation should be. But I know that there’s a very real chance that Game 4 could mark the end of the brightest period in the history of the Toronto Raptors. In a game that should be utterly meaningless given the inevitability of what is to come, we’re blessed with a very visceral reason to try and find meaning, as blind as it may be.

One of my biggest regrets as a young basketball fan is not appreciating the end of Chris Bosh’s Toronto Raptors career more. One day, we were fighting for a playoff spot and talking ourselves into his return during free agency, and the next, he was injured, out for the year, and gone to Miami. It all feels unfair in hindsight. There are frightening similarities to what happened with Bosh and where we stand with Lowry’s own injury and free agency. We have a chance to do it right this time.

If this series ends at home, give Casey and Lowry the cheer that they deserve, because through two decades of dealing with bullshit, it never came closer to being worth it than it did these past 4 years.