As it leaked last night, from mysterious Christmas sources, it felt increasingly likely Toronto would not be featured on the big NBA day of December 25th. To be honest, we knew this would likely be the case, even if the Raptors had added Kawhi Leonard, even if they had Finals aspirations, even if they had a built-in storyline for a big marquee game with a showdown against DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs. It be like that sometimes.
Then the word was official, with many of the usual suspects involved: Boston vs. Philadelphia in the East, match-ups featuring the Knicks (against Milwaukee) and the Lakers (against the Warriors), a star-studded OKC/Houston affair, and a west coast night cap featuring Portland and Utah. That’s it, that’s all we’ll get to unwrap on Christmas Day. A lot of great NBA action, but no Raptors.
The reasons for this, once again, do not involve some grand conspiracy. The league will always find a place for the biggest east and west coast markets (New York and Los Angeles; with the Bulls being just too terrible to include), and it’s hard to deny the appeal of a game featuring Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Chris Paul, James Harden, and the fading star power of Carmelo Anthony. The west coast game, meanwhile, is on at 10:30 EST, so who even cares.
I suppose there’s a case to be made that the Raptors should get in there to play the Celtics or the Sixers, that their true place is as a matinee mainstay in the hierarchy of primetime sports. There’s some pride to be gained from that position, and some sense to this reasoning, given that this trio of teams will most certainly vie for conference supremacy. Toronto deserves to be part of that particular narrative, if nothing else.
But on the other hand, deserve’s got nothing to do with it. The Raptors didn’t play either team in the playoffs last year, and despite our natural dislike of the Boston puff-up machine, the current squad does not really have a major rivalry with either club as of yet. If we can stand outside our petty grievances (a big ask, I realize), that part becomes clear.
Likewise, the idea of giving the afternoon slot to a Raptors-Spurs showdown, which I think we can agree would be the only other Toronto-centric game to make any real sense. No matter the location, we’d be in for a hot crowd — Spurs fans turning on Kawhi, or Raptors fans giving an ovation to DeMar — but that doesn’t necessarily translate into TV ratings. San Antonio, without any star attractions, is shrinking back into an incredibly small market. And while Toronto has proven itself to be a good regular season team, they’ve yet to walk into the true upper echelon of the league — the kind of squad that draws major eyeballs outside of Canada. It also hurts that Toronto’s new star attraction is camera-adverse, gives a boring quote, and appears to play basketball with the passion of a cyborg. To quote F. Murray Abraham from Inside Llewyn Davis: I don’t see a lot of money here.
On the plus side, Christmas Day is now mercifully free to be spent with our families, or watching movies, or playing in the snow, or whatever else you like to do on that day. It’s a day of reprieve, one where we can put aside our concerns for the Raptors for a bit and relish the time spent on something — anything — else. I understand the badge of honour a Christmas Day game represents, its articulated “you’ve arrived” sentiment. It’s no doubt cool to hear the big name national commentators talk about the Raptors and Toronto and everything we’re all trying to do here in front of the largest audience.
But this has long been part of the Raptors mythos too. We’re playing from behind, trying to prove we belong — and still fighting, scrapping, clawing (klawing?), for everything we can get. Consider it a gift.