Heading into the NBA playoffs this season, the Toronto Raptors hold the hopes of not only a city, but an entire nation. With the Toronto Maple Leafs officially eliminated from the NHL playoffs, the hockey-centered city of Toronto will focus its attention on the NBA.
The city of Toronto is a sports town that is years removed from its glory days. The last major sports championship team from Toronto was the Blue Jays during their run of back-to-back World Series titles in 1992-93. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967. And the Toronto Raptors, well, they are going to the playoffs this year for only the sixth time in franchise history.
Not only will Toronto fans be hoping for a deep playoff run by the Raptors this year, but the entire nation of Canada will be rooting for this year’s pack of young Raptors.
Since the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis after the 2000-01 season, Canadian basketball fans have had only one team north of the border to cheer for.
The Vince Carter led Raptors of the early 2000’s inspired a new breed of Canadian basketball junkies across the country. Thanks to Carter and the Toronto Raptors franchise, basketball has become more popular within Canadian youth, and that is becoming in the evident in the NBA.
More and more Canadians are showcasing their talents in the NCAA and eventually the NBA. In recent NBA drafts, Canadians such as Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett have been selected early in the first round, with Bennett being the first ever Canadian to be selected first overall. The Kansas Jayhawks freshman star Andrew Wiggins, will likely join the ranks of Bennett and Thompson as a Canadian selected in the top five of the NBA draft.
There are 9 Canadians currently playing in the NBA, and that number will continue to climb as Basketball Canada continues to grow. In this year’s NCAA Tournament, there were 24 Canadian players that took part in the madness. Many of these players played huge roles for historically powerful basketball programs.
Along with Wiggins, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis is another Canuck who had a large impact on his college team and is expected to be drafted in the first round of this year’s NBA draft. The growth of Canadian basketball stems back to 1995 and the inaugural season of the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors have struggled for most of their franchises short existence, but this NBA season, they have proven that they can compete with the best. With just four games left in the regular season, the Raptors need one more win to lock up the franchises second Atlantic Division title, and they need two wins to reach the most regular season wins in franchise history.
The Raptors brought basketball into Canada, and the super stardom of Vince Carter put the franchise on the map outside of its home country. So as the Toronto Raptors look to head into the playoffs with an Atlantic Division title, an entire nation will be hoping that a Division title is just the beginning for this year’s Raptor squad.
Commentary By Eric Kummel