When it comes to sports, most Canadians will tell you that they live and breathe hockey. The country is known for its craze for the game that has grown men hitting pucks (and each other) with fury. Perhaps due to its cold wintery climate, the Great White North has produced some of the greatest hockey players of all time. The country has bred generations of youth that have seemingly grown up with a stick in their hands and skates on their feet.
But is it possible that a shift has begun to develop, which could shift some of that innate passion and enthusiasm toward the game of basketball?
It was just about a year ago, in the summer of 2018, when the Toronto Raptors pulled off a blockbuster trade to secure the services (albeit for one year) of star small forward Kawhi Leonard. The buzz surrounding this move was immense, but it also included a lot of doubters, who vocally exclaimed their skepticism of shipping away the long-standing face of the team in DeMar DeRozan, who was known for his immense contributions for the team on the court, as well as within the community.
Moreover, there were several question marks pertaining to the desire of Leonard to be a part of the team long-term, as well as his immediate health conditions. While these concerns were well documented and justified, what came to fruition during the following season proved that it was a great decision by Raptors GM Bobby Webster.
Leonard quickly established himself as the new catalyst for one of the best teams in the NBA. And as he had done in his glory days with San Antonio, he put the team (and the city of Toronto) squarely on his back when the playoffs came around. One of the greatest moments of the postseason, was surely Leonard’s series clinching, buzzer-beating, rim-bouncing shot, which eventually dropped in the basket. That shot alone was enough to excite basketball fans from all over the world.
The Raptors were able to overcome several series deficits in the postseason, ultimately pushing past the Milwaukee Bucks to reach the NBA Finals and face the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Toronto had basketball fever, as fans gathered at Union Station to relish in the unforgettable moment that their team had been able to achieve. With the entire country behind them, the Raptors were able to close out their first ever championship, sending the entire nation of Canada into a frenzy.
This team was able to achieve something truly unbelievable. They transformed a hockey-crazed nation into a lover of the game of basketball. Fans from all over the country came together to watch as their team reached the pinnacle of the sport. They rejoiced in the beauty the game has to offer.
Recent news of Leonard’s departure to the Los Angeles Clippers surely have left many Canadians disappointed. But they are the defending champions, and they have a strong core of players, who could make some noise next season as well.
The standard has been raised for basketball in Canada. They got a taste of winning a title, and perhaps this will spark a new generation of young prospects, who will never forget where they were when the Raptors achieved the impossible.
Hockey will always be a symbol of Canadian culture. However, there is little doubt that more room has now been cleared for basketball as well.