I’m pretty sure I look like an unhinged lunatic during Raptor playoff games. I’m basically Nick Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.
My drinking habit has definitely escalated over the playoffs. It’s gone from “The Upper End of Social” to “Please Don’t Judge Me.” Fortunately, my circle of friends is made up of the highest quality of enablers.
To fully grasp why I’m such a mess during playoff games, you need to have all the facts and understand my basketball origins.
You need to know that I didn’t like basketball before it was cool… I liked it when it was powerfully uncool.
The Triassic Period
I grew up in North Bay, Ontario, which has always been Hockeytown. Basketball was barely considered a sport.
But, I never took to hockey. More accurately, I fucking hated hockey. So, my parents went into desperation mode to try to find this kid some sort of hobby.
They tried everything, I sucked at everything. My mixed martial arts career ended when I failed my karate yellow belt test 2 years in a row because I couldn’t throw a punch with my off-hand. God, I wish I was joking.
But one day, I saw a commercial for Micheal Jordan’s Come Fly With Me VHS. I saw Mike dribble between his legs twice and shoot a jump shot in Larry Bird’s face. I didn’t even know who Larry Bird was yet, but I knew that was the coolest god damn thing I had ever seen in my young life.
Lo and behold, my parents could rejoice. The little idiot finally had a hobby.
A Student Athlete. Well, Sorta
After shooting in my driveway and trying to dunk on a 7-foot rim for a few years, I tried out for the basketball team. And hot dang, I made it.
But, you need to understand that basketball was very fringe back then. So, being on the team did exactly nothing to help me impress any of the girls at my high school. Of course, my awkward gait and my tetracycline-treated acne were also factors. But still, our team had less clout than The Mathletes.
Telling someone in North Bay in the early 90s that you played basketball was like telling them you were into steampunk. You would get a polite and bemused smile. “I suppose that’s a hobby of some sort. Good for you, I guess.”
My high school basketball team was a ragtag group of not-quite-jocks-still-pretty-nerdy-kids. And we were very, very white. We looked like The Olympic Basketball team for Hitler’s vision of Europe.
I was an Ok player. I could dunk…ish. Everything had to be perfect for me to dunk. I had to be warm, but not too warm. There had to be people watching, but not too many people. My shoes couldn’t be too tight and the gym couldn’t be too cold.
My mom still has a newspaper clipping from one of our games and my name is listed as one of the leading scorers. Unfortunately, the rest of the story details the 50+ point ass-kicking we were handed by a powerhouse from another city. All of my points were scored in extended garbage time minutes. But whatever.
Following the NBA was extremely hard back then. Our local paper’s sports page didn’t publish the results from the Western Conference because the game started at 10 pm and that was clearly too late for them. Although, oddly, I’m pretty sure the Western Conference NHL scores made it in.
To see any basketball highlights on TSN, I had to sit through all of the NHL highlights. And then the CHL. And then the OHL. And then maybe the World Juniors and then Jesus Christ how much fucking hockey is there in this goddamn country?!
We would get, like, 2 televised NBA games a month. I would have to go through the TV guide (hey remember those) and try to find a syndicated Bulls vs Celtics game.
Fortunately, every spring NBC would step up their coverage and I would get basketball every weekend. Thank god for that. And thank god for Marv Albert, Mike Fratello, Ahmad Rashad, and the spectacularly absurd Bill Walton.
But in mid-high school, news broke that Toronto was going to get an NBA team. That would change everything, right? Welllll…
Dawn of The Dinobots
Toronto was getting a team, but I was in my peak Jordan fandom. I made a deal with myself. As long as #23 was playing, The Bulls would be my #1 and The Raps would be my #2. I would go all-in on Toronto when Mike retired.
My allegiances were put to the test when my sister surprised me during Christmas of 1995 with Bulls-Raptors tickets at Skydome. I can’t even get into the magnitude of that.
The Bulls were chasing the NBA’s first ever 70-win season. I was in no mood for any underdog bullshit or to cheer for the home team. I proudly wore my Jordan jersey and annoyed everyone in my section by loudly cheering for the Bulls.
But, Mike’s shot at the buzzer didn’t count and the Raptors pulled off the biggest win of their young history. Still, I was pissed.
But, things worked out fine. The Bulls won 70 games that year and The Raptors lost 61.
Ok. Let’s Go Raptors
2 years later, Mike walked away from the game again and it was time for me to bleed purple. And, holy shit, did I bleed.
Forgive the old-man-rant, but Millennial-aged fans have literally no idea how emotionally punishing it was to be a Raptor fan in the early years.
They only know of The Vince Carter era. Pffft, do you youngbloods have any idea what preceded the Vince Carter era?
There was The Mighty Mouse era. There were the Zan Tabak and Popeye Jones years. Then, the Grizzlies relocated and we all got nervous. And then, god help us, there was the Rob Babcock era.
Kids today have no idea what it was like to watch our franchise player be traded for 2 scrubs and a former All-Star who was playing with another man’s kidney in his body. I’m not joking, Google that, kids.
Most of you are too young to even remember the years right before The We the North movement. This was right after Chris Bosh left and Andrea Bargnani briefly became the face of our franchise. A real fucking hoot, that was.
But, as it’s been said 10,000 times during this playoff run, we started at the blah and now we’re blah blah.
Me The North
Despite what I just wrote in the previous section, I’m actually not a crusty OG fan who shuns bandwagon fans. By all means, all aboard! There is still plenty of room on this wagon.
It’s been nothing short of fucking incredible to see this country get behind this team in recent years. Pure madness. I love it.
A few months ago, I saw a group of tween-aged girls on the TTC intelligently breaking down the Marc Gasol trade and my head nearly exploded. This would have been unfathomable a few years ago.
I’m loving this playoff run, but I find it completely impossible to relax during the games. Being a Raps fan for 20+ years has left me with way too many emotional scars from:
- Mighty Mouse leaving us
- T-Mac leaving us
- Vince leaving us
- Drafting Charlie V
- Drafting Hafa instead of Iggy
- Kobe giving us 81 points
- Bosh dumping us for Lebron
- And of course… Lebronto
That last one was actually a low point. After all-time high expectations and a year of telling haters “No, it’s different this year,” Lebron James still proceeded to drink our milkshake in the playoffs.
I honestly felt sick for a week. I really started to understand why Leaf fans are such psychopaths. It’s called trauma.
This is why I was ok with the cold-blooded moves that we made this summer, as much as I love Demar and Dwane. I knew we were getting Kawhi’s basketball education from the Gregg Popovich School of Extraordinarily Boring Basketball.
I knew he would be good, but for god’s sake, I didn’t know he would be a basketball Cylon. So Say We All.
This playoff run has been the loudest I’ve ever cheered watching basketball games and likely the most my neighbours have ever hated me… Mind you, there may be other factors in play there.
I yelled after every play as Kawhi eviscerated Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The “chokers” stigma that The Raptors inherited from The Leafs is gone. And rightfully so, because, I’m not sure you know this… but the Raptors are in the fucking NBA finals right now. THE Finals. Of the NBA. Right now.
Raptor fans, we’ve earned this.
I don’t give a good goddamn if their team is injured or not. Golden State’s path to 5 straight finals is paved with injured opponents. I also don’t care that we didn’t go through LeBron this year. It was his decision to go to LA and make Space Jam 2 instead of making the playoffs.
We earned this. We are in this. So enjoy this. And if you need me, I will be pacing in front of the TV impatiently for the next few hours.