It’s no longer just “We The North” — it’s also “We The Champs.” On a chilly Tuesday night in Toronto, the Raptors celebrated their world championship in world-class fashion. And what better way to kick off the 25th season of the franchise than raising their first banner to the rafters?
It was a moment so meaningful, pictures are needed to do it justice. Here are the best of them.
The fans waited 24 years for their team to become champions. But they still had to wait another four months to see the coronation. By 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Jurassic Park was already at capacity. By 7:15, the usually fashionably late in-arena Raptors crowd had packed the house. And when the ceremonies finally began, camera phones were raised and tears fell. For a moment, it seemed like nobody wanted the game to start — just to continue to bask in the gold glow of a championship.
Many were skeptical this would ever happen. But the collective patience and pursuit of excellence by the fans and front office alike paid off. Which is why it was more than symbolic — it was justice — that the fans got replica rings and that many of the organization’s lesser-known pillars received actual ones on the floor for all to see.
In Masai We Trust
As the ceremony was about to get started, Jadakiss’s “The Champ is Here” played to get the crowd hyped. That sort of brash, speak-it-into-existence attitude seems contradictory to our nature as Canadians. With Big Baller Brand spokesman LaVar Ball himself in the crowd ready to watch his son, Lonzo, take the floor, the spotlight was on another brash talker who actually had substance behind his words. Masai Ujiri said “We will win in Toronto,” and after they did he doubled down — “We will win some more in Toronto.” He not only saw this night happening — he spoke about it openly.
When Ujiri received his ring, the fans erupted. It’s the only time I can recall an executive getting an MVP chant. Not that we needed to see him accept his ring to figure this out, but on opening night it was crystal clear — the approval rating for Ujiri has never been higher.
Meanwhile, Jamaal Magloire certainly received the loudest cheer an assistant coach has ever received. The Canadian and former Raptor milked the moment, raising the roof as sound reverberated off the arena ceiling. Magloire came to get his ring like a WWE entertainer collecting his title belt.
Putting a Ring on It
Drake’s “Big Rings” blasted through the speakers, then the chorus faded to an instrumental loop while the biggest championship rings ever were handed out. As NBA commissioner Adam Silver and MLSE board members Larry Tanenbaum, Edward Rogers and George Cope passed out the hardware, the only lyric that could be heard was the title of Drake’s 2015 mixtape: “what a time to be alive.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Every player accepted in his own fashion. Serge Ibaka danced his way down the aisle. Patrick McCaw put up three fingers on each hand to signify that he’s adding to his jewelry collection after previous wins with Golden State. Pascal Siakam touched his heart and pointed skyward as he routinely does to pay tribute to his late father.
The size of the moment wasn’t the only thing that was overwhelming — it was also the size of the jewelry. Multiple players stopped mid-embrace upon receiving the jewelry to marvel at it. Tanenbaum shared a moment with each player, which is not dissimilar to when he sees them in the corridors of the arena after big wins. But the MLSE chairman spent extra time to slide the ring on Kyle Lowry’s finger for him. Lowry just posted up and admired what his hard work had helped bring to Toronto.
Before taking off the ring, VanVleet went to mid-court to get one more touch of the gold Larry O’Brien Trophy. Even though every member of the team spent ample time with the trophy this summer, they all still stared into its reflection before they took the court to defend it.
The Raptors weren’t the only ones soaking it in. Ceremonies can be long dog-and-pony shows for a team’s opponents to sit through. But Alvin Gentry had his team on the floor watching the proceedings as if to start the season with the visualization of the championship culture he is trying to build.
Pelicans rookie and Toronto native Nickeil Alexander-Walker was born in 1998. The Raptors have been around longer than he has. So it was surreal for the Canadian to start his NBA career in Canada as an opponent watching Canada’s team lift a banner up to the rafters and dance around the championship trophy.
For the Fan
There was a smaller ring presentation that happened away from the court at half-time. It wasn’t for a player or member of team personnel, but it trended on Twitter none the less. The Raptors’ Super Fan, Nav Bhatia, was presented a ring by Masai Ujiri, who joked that Bhatia is so visible representing the Raptors that he bumped in to him at the Japanese embassy during the pre-season.
It was a scene you’d be hard pressed to see at the ring night of another organization. Bhatia, who was the honorary grand marshal of the Raptors’ championship parade, accepted the ring on behalf of all fans. It speaks to the organization’s relationship with its fans and Bhatia’s relationship with the team.
After the pomp and circumstance, it was just another regulation game. The Raptors ended up winning in overtime, playing the same unselfish and stubborn brand of basketball that made them champions a year ago. The W was a fitting end to a celebratory night, but the action on the court was secondary. And, really, wen you wait this long, nothing was going to kill the vibe.
Adam Silver ended his pre-game address by saying, “Nothing brings people together like sports. It unites us all.” Most nights it would be hyperbole, but by the end of this night it was proven true. It was just game one of 82, but it felt like so much more.