In the 2018-2019 NBA season, to predict that the Golden State Warriors would win again seemed to be a no brainer. Even before the Warriors acquired former Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, they were ranked as one of the best teams of all-time and over the years had been breaking plenty of records, including most wins in a season. Everybody thought they were untouchable. The Toronto Raptors, on the other hand, were a long shot at best.
Raptors were created alongside the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995, expanding outside of American borders for the first time. Toronto obtained a superstar in Vince Carter which lead to great attendance. The Grizzlies struggled from the outset and eventually the franchise was sold to Memphis leaving the Raptors as the only Canadian team in the league.
Many Grizzlies fans became Raptors fans as a result, and the team encouraged this by advertised themselves with slogans that represent Canada, like “We the North.” For the final series, “Jurassic Parks” where fans would gather to watch the games were set up across the country. Even one of the most popular pop artists in the world right now, Canadian rapper Drake, has played a part, being a consistent courtside fixture and producing apparel that collaborates with the Raptors.
Throughout the years the Raptors have had many star players that have made them gain a lot of popularity. In the beginning, it was mostly Vince Carter, his cousin Tracy McGrady and Damon Stoudamire. After these players left, Chris Bosh was the leader for a time, and once Bosh left, DeMar DeRozan took the spot. DeRozan was drafted 9th overall in 2009, and was later joined by Kyle Lowry. Over time, these two developed into All-Stars and lead the Raptors on a lot of playoff runs. It seemed the only thing holding them back from reaching the NBA finals and was arguably the greatest player of all time, LeBron James.
After many seasons of heartbreaking playoff losses, Toronto finally picked this year to change things up and acquiring superstar Kawhi Leonard, who had already won a Championship ring and a finals MVP with the San Antonio Spurs. But to do it, they gave up one of the most-loved Raptors players of all time in DeMar DeRozan. Many fans were angry about Toronto betraying him, but if they wanted to win an NBA title, they needed to change things up.
Kawhi Leonard would be the leader of the team with the others helping him out. The team’s risky gambit came at just the right time. Lebron left the Eastern conference to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the West.
Also, many young players finally came into their own this season, especially Pascal Siakam who was the 27th pick in 2016 but turned into a monster in a short time. There is a good chance he will win the most improved player award. His great play catapulted Toronto into a powerhouse. Toronto finished the regular season 2nd best in the NBA behind the Milwaukee Bucks and had an excellent playoff run beating the young defensive powerhouses in the Orlando Magic in 5 games. Then they beat the 76ers in 7 games. And finally became the conference champs when they then beat the Bucks lead by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokeumpo.
In the 2015-2016 season, the Golden State Warriors had won 73 games, losing only 9 to break the win record that was set by the Bulls when they went 72-10 in 1995-1996. The Warriors had two of the best shooters of all times in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and had many other very valuable players which helped them reach this record. In Oklahoma City, Former MVP Kevin Durant, a 7’0 ft scoring machine was unable to lead his team to a championship and lost to Golden State even though they were winning the series 3-1. He wanted bad to win a championship so he joined the Warriors in 2016. Golden State now had the two best shooters and now signed a four-time scoring champion. The entire basketball world practically took it for granted that they would never lose a championship again. Two seasons later Golden State miraculously signed a top-three center in the league in DeMarcus Cousins.
Toronto would have to play the best they possibly could to beat the greatest lineup in NBA history. But that entire lineup never quite materialized. Kevin Durant was hurt for the first 5 games and re-injured himself when he came back. Then, when Toronto, were up 3 games to 2 and Klay Thompson was playing on another level, he was shooting 3 pointers and hitting pretty much all of them, he went up for a layup and tore his ACL on the landing.
Toronto continued to battle till the end and brought Canada their first ever championship after 24 years of working hard to build the team. Kawhi Leonard was awarded the NBA Finals MVP. The risky and controversial trade had paid off and turned the Raptors into champions.
Now that Toronto has brought Canada a championship, some hope it will lead to more teams into Canada. NBA owner Adam Silver said in an interview that he would love to see Vancouver get a team again.