By: Jeffrey Newholm
When one thinks about Canadian sports, hockey is probably the first to come to mind. But since a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley cup since 1993, northern fans perhaps should invest in another Canadian sport: basketball. Dr. James Naismith may have been accused by a grumpy Bill Self of coaching some equally bad Kansas teams. But the Canadian born educator brought America the game of basketball to begin with. Finally, 100 years later, Toronto fans are taking the next pass to play the unbeatable dubs. And if Kyrie Irving and LeBron can’t win up north, it’ll be the other east teams who’ll soon be extinct.
For the past decade the east has been akin to a Usain Bolt meet: a lot of names looking up at one man who always wins. Between the Heat and Cavs, LeBron has won the conference seven years in a row. With the Warriors taking over everything, the east became an uninteresting race to an even less interesting finish line. But the horn finally may sound on the King’s reign. The Cavs are treading water at the three seed, and trading away half the team only seemed to bail water from a quickly sinking ship. Finally, a day for a new contender has dawned.
In the offseason, all east fans’ focus was in Boston, where the Celtics gave the house away for Cavs point guard Irving. But the Celtics own a tradition of accustomed success in a city with a zealous sports base. The Raptors, on the other hand, could usually only make the ESPN bottom scroller. But the team made steady improvement since hiring retread Dwayne Casey in 2011 after losing 60 games. But the way up hasn’t proved to be a ski lift.
Whether it was an embarrassing 40 point loss to the Cavs in the 2016 semifinals or a very quick out at Cleveland’s hands in last year’s second round, the playoffs proved to be about as worthwhile as a visit to Jurassic Park. After the latter letdown, GM Masai Ujiri said the team needed a “culture reset”. And sometimes it takes some big failures before one can break through to greatness. The Pistons frustrated Michael Jordan for three years in a row before the Bulls finally busted past Detroit in a sweep. Pat Summitt lost seven Final Fours before the Vols finally managed a win. Something done easily the first time isn’t worth doing anyways. Chipping away at the wall of failure, before toppling it into the land of opportunity, is far more worthwhile.
This season, the Raptors are quietly tearing through the east, even ending Houston’s seventeen game winning streak Friday night. With the Cavs’ future far from certain, and the cameras turned squarely at Oakland, the Raptors could quietly breed a specimen built for sustained success. The ball, it seems, has come full circle. And if the Raptors don’t blink come May, soon #wethenorth will be more than a lame also-ran rallying cry; it’ll be the feared mantra of the team with the clearest path to the finals.