‘We The North’ replaced ‘Let’s Go Raptors’ quickly when the 2013-14 playoffs began in Toronto after the hometown team won the second Atlantic Division title in club history and went on to play seven games against the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of NBA Post-Season.
A loss to the Nets in game seven dashed post-season hopes, but ‘We The North’ chants could still be heard as the players left the court, hearts broken and feeling defeated.
Now, ‘We The North’ is everywhere in the city – subways, buildings, bus shelters – and it can easily be called one of the best campaigns from a Toronto sports franchise ever.
“I like it, man. Whoever came up with it, the ‘We The North’ idea, I haven’t really asked, we just ran with it,” says Amir Johnson. “This pre-season, going to Vancouver and Montreal, seeing our posters around, you just recognize how big that ‘We The North’ theme is and it’s cool.”
In Vancouver billboards greeted the team upon their arrival to the west coast in preparation for the Sacramento Kings.
In Montreal, ‘Le Nord C’est Nous’ t-shirts were made and like Vancouver, posters and billboards were placed around the city as heralds to the pre-season game against the New York Knicks.
Lou Williams joined the Raptors in the off-season, but made it very clear, their slogan preceded them.
“I knew it was a young, hard-working team, very scrappy, I knew they were going to fight ‘til the end of games and they really take the ‘We The North’ stuff really, really seriously; they really feel like they’re overlooked.”
So, while ‘We The North’ has caught on in Toronto it hasn’t spread across the entire country yet.
Speaking with basketball and sports fans in Calgary and Halifax by email, their honest consensus of the Raptors is similar: hardcore basketball fans are excited for this season and moderate fans seem to be identifying with the Raptors a little bit more than usual, but is any of it genuine?
It doesn’t seem so, according to one fan in Halifax.
“‘We The North’ caught on near the end of last season, ramping up very quickly by the time the Raptors were in the playoffs. By game 7 of the Nets series We The North was trending everywhere in town. Even non-basketball fans were getting very involved and were tuning in to watch the game,” he said. “It wasn’t very surprising though after their elimination when all of the hype died down. The support was cool at the time, but didn’t seem sincere.”
In Calgary, it’s going to take a lot more post-season action to create regular interest in the Raptors, however the fan I spoke to says there was a little more awareness of the club at the start of the season.
For Coach Dwane Casey, people unaware and unfamiliar with the Raptors club spreads far wider than just Canadian cities.
“I was in Wichita, Kansas and a guy didn’t even know that Toronto had an NBA team and that should T’ you off, that should make you mad that fans didn’t know we had an NBA team,” he said. “So, we have to use ‘We The North.’”
The only solution? Win.
“We know we have a team here, we know we have pride here, so we have to use that to our advantage as far as having that two-by-four, that chip on our shoulder,” Casey said. “We have to play that way and I think ‘We The North’ is part of the identity that we have established.”
That identity of ‘We The North’ has been embraced by a number of the players and through various advertising campaigns, which depict players in street clothes on courts around the city with Toronto landmarks shown in the distance.
Johnson has been very vocal about the slogan since it’s launch last season and has a bit of a different approach to showing his love of it and getting the message out there to Torontonians.
“ I love it, I love it, and everywhere I’m going I’m saying ‘We The North’ or if there’s a dusty car I’m writing ‘We The North’ on the dusty car,” he said. “Ya know, I love it.”
While writing “We The North” on dirty cars may be one way to spread the word, the Raptors know that sports fans in Toronto and in Canada have a number of other allegiances in the NBA. However, Patrick Patterson thinks that can change.
“I know there’s a bunch of Canadians that have favourite teams as far as Miami, New York, Indiana, or L.A. goes, but hopefully when it’s all said and done, we truly become Canada’s team,” he said.
“Hopefully we can get the whole country behind us, rooting for us, constantly cheering for us, and hopefully our success will bring outsiders, in.”
The ‘outsiders’ remain across the country and as Casey points out, even some sports fans across the U.S. aren’t aware of Canadian teams in North American leagues.
Patterson paused for a moment to consider his response when asked about why a Canadian basketball fan should cheer for the Raptors and how he could convince an ‘outsider’ to give Toronto a chance.
“Because we’re your home,” he said. “We’re a team that’s going to work extremely hard and focus on getting better. We’re up and coming and we’re on the rise. We’re extremely young; we have youth, but we have talent and great leadership on this team. Hopefully, within the next couple years, we can be right there at the tippy top for that Championship.”
And until the next “We The North” type slogan is created for the Raptors, they seem acutely aware of how winning is the only way to measure the growth and success of truly becoming the basketball team of the Great White North.