Both before and after last Saturday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers, Philly coach (and former Raptors coach) Nick Nurse said it was “weird” coming back to Scotiabank Arena so soon.
Nick, buddy, I know how you feel.
With slightly less fanfare than Nurse, I also returned to Scotiabank Arena Saturday night for the first time since last season. When I “retired” from basketball blogging in June, I knew I’d still write the occasional article here at HQ, but I figured I’d covered my last game in person as a credentialed media member.
Alas, the staff was shorthanded last weekend and Chelsea asked me if I could cover the game. And of course I said yes, because I’m a helpful guy, and hey, it’s a chance to go to the game!
But I have to admit that, as the game approached, I became a bit apprehensive about covering it. Stepping down as editor-in-chief of this site, after six years on staff, wasn’t an easy decision. Being a sports reporter was a dream job; that’s why I went to journalism school in the first place! And even though it never became my career focus (a shrinking market for journalism sent me into marketing), to actually get to cover my hometown NBA team, even just part time… it was amazing. Being a basketball blogger became part of my identity, and something that I was really proud of.
It was hard to give that up. But it was time; it was an amazing gig and I loved it, but it was getting difficult for me to give it the attention it deserved, on top of my day job. And I had promised myself that if being a part of this site ever became a burden – something that felt like work, that I had to do, as opposed to something fun that I wanted to do… it was time to quit. And so it was. After that disastrous play-in game against the Chicago Bulls, I said my goodbyes to the folks on media row and the Raptors PR team, took some last wistful looks around as I walked out of the arena…and actually got a bit choked up as I was taking the subway home… but it was the right decision and I don’t regret it.
As it was for Nick, for me, going back so soon definitely felt weird. But I’d committed. And I didn’t want it to be a negative experience — who wants to spend their Saturday feeling squirrely about what they decided to do for the night? So by the time I got to the arena, I tried to shift my perspective and remind myself how fortunate I was, and am, to get to do this. Not many people get to do this job at all, let alone live out that dream that they had in high school and college so much later in life, as I have the past few years.
So I tried to slow down, take a look around, take it in, be grateful for the opportunity, and live in the moment. Because it might not come again.
And then halfway through the game, I saw the news that Matthew Perry had died. So here I am, thinking about being grateful, and living in the moment, and enjoying cool opportunities like being on media row while they’re here… then learning that this person, who played this memorable character on a giant TV show that has become such a part of our culture, had died so young (he’s only few years older than I am!)... not to mention everything else going on in the world right now… I know it’s such a cliché, but it puts things in perspective.
Life is short.
Which brings me back to the Raptors.
Things are rough right now, for sure. It could be long season. In the short term, with a rookie coach, chemistry still developing, and a tough slate of games ahead, the Raptors could be several games below .500 by the end of the month; longer-term, with a flawed roster, not much maneuverability, and a whole bunch of free agents at the end of the year, it could take time for this team to improve. Throw in the still-weird vibes that resulted from the team not signing Pascal Siakam to a contract extension, and the bizarre “selfish” talk from Masai Ujiri... it’s not pretty. All of which Ujiri and Bobby Webster deserve criticism for.
But at the same time… I hope we can all find a moment this season to appreciate what we have, as Raptors fans. We can’t just live in the past, but we should still recognize how fortunate we were to win the 2019 title. To get to watch Kawhi Leonard lead us to that pinnacle. To experience the impeccable vibes of the 2020 title defense. To see Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet thrive. To see Serge and OG debate scarves. To watch Kyle and DeMar’s friendship, and careers, blossom. To hear the roar when Norm Powell dunked all over the 2016 Pacers. Remember MoPete’s miracle? How about Bosh, Jose and the ’07 playoffs. Or the ‘01 playoffs, the ‘00 dunk contest and Vince dunking everyone into oblivion.
Heck, to be here at all. I know I’m old, but it wasn’t that long ago that the Raptors didn’t even exist, and that having an NBA team outside the U.S. seemed impossible.
So complain. Throw up your hands in frustration. Debate whether Nick or Fred or the roster or the front office are to blame for the current situation. Go debate with your favourite blogger on Twitter (but please, be respectful).
But somewhere in there, I encourage you to take a moment, and pause, and reflect on what we do have – and appreciate the wins when they come (like Wednesday’s against the Bucks!), but also that we get to cheer for an NBA team in Toronto, in Canada, in the first place. We’re lucky. Not every city or NBA fan gets to do that.
And it might not last forever — ask Vancouver Grizzlies fans — so even if the team stinks, try and enjoy the moments while they’re here.