In our age of enormous salaries for professional athletes and overpriced tickets to sporting events, there are many reasons why the Toronto Raptors winning the National Basketball Association championship is worth celebrating. Behind all the hype, the team succeeded because it was built on the solid principles. First and foremost, the Raptors won with tremendous class. It was quite clear that the two teams in the final series had great respect for each other. Before answering questions about his team’s loss, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “They’re a fantastic basketball team. Great defensively, share the ball, play a beautiful style. … Congrats to Toronto, to their organization, to their fans, they are a worthy champion.”
Golden State lost some key players as the series went on, but Toronto players made it clear that they were never happy to see an exceptional opponent hobbling off the court. When Kevin Durant re-injured his leg in game 5, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry not only walked with him, they motioned to the crowd to stop cheering. The hometown fans relented and even showed remorse, with one setting up a Go Fund Me campaign for the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.
From a basketball point of view, I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen the sport played at such an exceptional level. Yes, there were great individual players, but here we had two extremely well coached teams each playing as one unit on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. I don’t believe it would be an exaggeration to say that sport was elevated to the level of an art form.
The Raptors, however, not only impacted the world of basketball, they inspired an entire country. Despite the fact that basketball was invented by a Canadian, Toronto is traditionally a hockey city and Canada is a hockey country. Yet this year viewership for the NBA finals far exceeded interest in the Stanley Cup.
Perhaps this is because the Raptors, the most ethnically diverse team ever to win an NBA championship, were a reflection of Toronto and of Canada. Players are from six countries and the team president represents a seventh.
The fans are just as diverse as the Raptors. This could be seen as millions lined the streets of Toronto for the team’s victory parade, joined the crowds that cheered for the team at various Jurassic Parks around the country, and even travelled to California to cheer their team when they played in Oakland. The team’s “superfan” Nav Bhatia, who has been to every home game for the last 24 years and can always be seen in seat A12, is a Sikh immigrant to Canada.
As the Raptors party winds down, we can reflect on how basketball and the world are changing. Africa, in particular, is strongly represented in the Raptors organization. Veteran player Ibaka, the pride of Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, won his first NBA title, as did Pascal Siakam of Cameroon.
The entire team was put together by Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who is from Nigeria. He has also been instrumental in providing opportunities for African youth to develop their basketball skills, and stands behind the Basketball Africa League, which begins play in 2020. It will be the first NBA-sponsored league outside of North America.
I absolutely treasured the Raptors’ championship run, not only because I love basketball and I’m from Toronto, but because the team represents so much of what I believe in. Diversity is strength and diversity is to be celebrated. Work hard to be your best, but commend others and thus create synergy. Honour your opponent, and remember that true competition doesn’t mean to win, it means to strive to be better together.
These are all lessons of far greater value than even the richest NBA contract.
Thank you Raptors!
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac