By Gerry Chidiac
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 of the hype, the team succeeded because they were built on 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 reinjured his leg in game 5, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry not only walked with him, they motioned to the small – but vocal — segment of the crowd that was cheering Durant’s injury to stop. The hometown fans relented and even showed remorse, with one setting up a “Go Fund Me” campaign for The KD Charity Foundation.
There was another instance of outstanding sportsmanship in Game 6. The Warriors’ Klay Thompson was injured on a breakaway dunk late in the third quarter. The Raptors’ Danny Green, who fouled Thompson on the play, went to check on Thompson’s health and to assure him that the foul wasn’t intentional. Thompson told Green he knew the foul was clean. Thompson’s teammates, in turn, told Green the play wasn’t dirty and to shake it off.
From a basketball point of view, I cannot remember a time when I have 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 do not 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 basketball was invented by a Canadian (James Naismith), 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 were from six different countries, and the team president represented a seventh.
The fans were just as diverse as the Raptors. This could be seen as millions lined the streets of Toronto for the team’s victory parade. Raptors fans cheered for the team at various Jurassic Parks around the country, and even travelled to California to cheer on their team when they were in Oakland. Indeed, 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 Serge Ibaka, the pride of Brazzaville, 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, becoming the first NBA sponsored league outside of North America.
I absolutely treasured the Raptors’ championship run, not only because I love basketball and am 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. Honor your opponent, and remember that true competition does not simply mean winning at the expense of your opponent; it means striving together to be your best.
These are all lessons of far greater value than even the richest NBA contract.
Thank you Raptors!
Gerry Chidiac is a champion for social enlightenment, inspiring others to find their greatness in making the world a better place. For more of his writings, go to www.gerrychidiac.com.
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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