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Culture Watch: Behind Every Good Raptor Man

Sure, the Raptors are fun and good. But their wives are even more fun and good (and just as athletic).

2016 Toronto International Film Festival - 'The Wedding Party' Premiere Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

With February and the first 60 games of the season in the rear view, March begins Women’s History Month. Toronto may not have a WNBA team, though not for lack of talent. Just two years ago, four Canadian women (Adut Bulgak, Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin, and Nirra Fields) were drafted into the WNBA. But the athletic abilities are not limited to these stars, or even to basketball. The women behind the Raptors are exceptional athletes in their own right, and could easily do just as much damage on the court as their partners.

Kiara Morrison is the mother of Diar and Mari DeRozan, and DeMar’s biggest supporter. Kiara has gained notoriety amongst Raptors fans for sitting along the baseline with fellow Raptors superfan, Nav Bhatia, and counting down the shot clock. But Ms. Morrison is more than just a passionate fan. Basketball is in her blood. Kiara is the daughter of Keith Morrison, a former swingman for the Alaska Milkmen of the Philippine Basketball Association. Kiara herself played the small forward position for her Serra High girls’ basketball team, averaging 7.9 points and 8 rebounds per game. With Morrison playing in a knee brace in high school games, the decision to manage the women’s basketball team at USC instead of playing proved to be one that would spare her body in the long term.

Kyle Lowry may hold the moniker of “Kid From North Philly” but his wife, Ayahna, could challenge him for that title on any given day. Ayahna attended Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia from 2003-2006, and in just three years managed to put up stats and earn accolades that would rival not only her husband’s, but many current NBA stars. Lowry’s competitive nature is unparalleled, but with a wife whose numbers are just as impressive as his, the title of “basketball champion” may hold just as much meaning in his household as it does on the court. Had she not torn her ACL in her final season, there’s a chance we could have seen Dwane Casey subbing Ayahna in for Kyle during crunch time.

Lauren Miles is a wife, a mom, a sneaker head, and an excellent follow on Twitter. But like every woman profiled here, the list does not stop there. Before calling Toronto home, and before becoming Mrs. Miles, Lauren Smith was a basketball sensation all on her own. Before attending Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Lauren earned MVP honours at Samuel Clemson High School, averaging 14 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Prior to a devastating injury, Lauren was a rebounding machine, and scored double figure points in five games. Even after returning from a third ACL tear, Lauren went on to average double figures in her fifth year, a stat she should surely remind C.J. of the next time he complains of sore knees. Upon graduating from Texas A&M, Lauren worked as a surgical assistant, so if Alex McKechnie ever needs assistance in the locker room, he doesn’t have to look too far.

Basketball is not the only sport that the women behind the Raptors excel at. Caroline Kuczynski, mother of Stella Rose Kuzcynski-Nogueira, is not just a pretty Super Mom. She is also an accomplished swimmer. Caroline swam for Arizona State University, placing 8th in the NCAA Women’s Championship, and 8th in the Pacific- 12 Women’s Championship. Caroline, a Florida native, led her high school swim team to two state championships. It would be this same high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, that would be leading the United States charge in gun reform after a heartbreaking school shooting that left 17 students and staff deceased. Caroline and her family, deeply saddened by the massacre, attended candlelight vigils and created wooden angels to remember the victims of the tragedy by.

Caroline, Lauren, Ayahna, and Kiara are in elite company, not just within the circle of player wives, but within the entire Raptors organization. Tara Gray, wife of Assistant Coach and Director of Analytics, Eric Khoury currently serves as a Manager of Sports Partnerships for Rogers Communications. She is a former member of the Brampton Thunder in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and served as team captain for the 2013-2014 season. Tara was instrumental in the University of Minnesota Duluth Gophers becoming National champions in 2008 and 2011. Assistant Coach Nick Nurse’s wife is a former volleyball player, as is Jakob Poeltl’s mother, Martina. Like Kiara, Ayahna, and Lauren, Assistant Coach Jim Sann’s wife was also a basketball player.

To have a team where so many significant others are former athletes is an experience that Lauren Miles has never been a part of before, and one that she describes as “definitely pretty cool.”

Being the wife of an athlete may appear glamorous on Instagram and blogs, but it is nowhere as easy as it seems. These women gave up on their own dreams and aspirations so that their partners could follow theirs. The days and weeks that athletes spend travelling take their toll on the women at home raising the children. The wives and girlfriends of NBA players share a lifestyle that not many outside of athletic circles could understand, bonding over the days and nights spent holding down the fort while their men are chasing playoff contention. The women within the Raptors organization, however, share a little bit more, putting them in a league of their own.