Love and Basketball: An Origin Story
As part of a regular series in this anniversary year, Raptors.com writers are meandering down memory lane. Join them as we celebrate 25 years of Raptors basketball.
I was 15 years old when a dread-headed Chris Bosh sealed my fate forever with a silky step-back jumper.
Sure, I’d watched the Toronto Raptors long before that moment changed my life. My first recollection of the team is from a random visit to my grandmother’s, in which a game just happened to be playing soundlessly on her large, clunky television. Vince Carter must have been in purple and black at the time, though I remember not much more than snippets of being fascinated by the high pace of the action.
Skip ahead, and the first Raptors jersey I ever owned—gifted to me as a Christmas present—bore the name of a lightning-quick guard named T.J. Ford, who had captured my attention unlike any other in how he zipped up and down the floor, sticking midrange jumpers out of the pick-and-roll, finding cutters with passes that were mesmerizing in how they materialized out of seemingly nowhere, and even rising for startling dunks that illustrated his sure-footed explosiveness.
Everything else related to the Raptors prior to my true basketball awakening lives now in dusty boxes in the attic of my brain, and if you open them, you’ll find only fragments: A grade eight, self-made graduation poster with “CB4” written in bubble lettering; a vague remembrance of Amir Johnson torching the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers at nearly every meeting; the second dunk by former Harlem Globetrotter Jamario Moon in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest, in which he took off from just inside the free throw line, caught a bounce pass with his left hand from teammate Jason Kapono, and threw down an emphatic one-handed jam.
I could’ve chosen any of those memories as my starting place. But I chose the one I did because it is the one that sticks out the most, and because, deep down, I know that it is what forged an eternal passion in my soul the likes of which will continue to burn even when everything else falters.
As is the case with most of these stories, mine begins with luck. My mother had entered a contest to win two Raptors tickets months earlier and, somehow, the stars aligned. She gave them to me as a present, and so it was that on March 17, 2010—St. Patrick’s Day—I found myself being driven away from my small hometown of Kincardine, Ontario and towards the sprawling metropolis of Toronto with a buddy of mine.
We were psyched.
The tickets told us that we would be sitting as close as we ever had to a live basketball game, and there was much to anticipate: Chris Bosh was having arguably his best season as a Raptor, young buck DeMar DeRozan was always good for an earth-shattering dunk or two, and, to my friend’s delight—he was a big Steve Nash fan—former Phoenix Sun Shawn Marion was now playing north of the border.
Inside the arena, it was a different world.
The then-named Air Canada Centre was packed with a salmagundi of good humoured, perhaps slightly inebriated fans, who had mostly left their red and white and black garb behind in lieu of St. Patrick’s Day green, transforming the entire stadium into a festive wonderland.
Even the Raps themselves sauntered out onto the court in bright green jerseys—my friend very swiftly bought a Marion one, and, oddly enough, had it signed pre-game by Jose Calderon.
And then the game itself began, and so did my metamorphosis into an arrant basketball diehard.
To this day, I am of the belief that free throws exist, aside from their obvious, intended purpose, to allow one to breathe. Basketball never leaves room for distraction, never warrants turning away from—it is so fast, so aesthetically pleasing, so constantly thrilling, that it’s easy to imagine missing something vital by blinking at just the wrong moment.
Add to that incessant stimulation the boisterous, unrelenting energy of the surrounding crowd, and I was enraptured. There’s something about being immersed in the midst of a swelling, euphoric mass of singularly-focused people that sends finger-tingling jolts through your body, making everything more visceral and giving you a greater—if primal—sense of belonging.
It also helped that the game I was at—which pitted the home team against the Atlanta Hawks, by the way—was a close one most of the time. It’s during those sorts of games that the importance of every possession becomes palpable to the point that you can almost feel the laser focus of the players as they calculate their next move, elevating the significance of every made or missed bucket as the seconds tick by.
A lot happened that evening. DeRozan did, in fact, have one of his patented dunks—right near where I was sitting, in fact!—Bosh became the first Raptor to pass the 10,000 career points mark early in the second quarter, and Jamal Crawford gave Toronto the business, drilling basket after basket on his way to 33 massive points.
Fittingly, all of this eventually led to a one-possession game—Raptors ball, down 105–104—with the shot clock turned off. Jarrett Jack stood far right at the top of the arc, vigorously motioning for his teammates to clear to the opposite side of the floor. He then tossed the ball down to Bosh, who had Al Horford on his back just outside of the key, about 20 feet from the hoop.
Bosh pivoted to face Horford, jab-stepped one, two, three, four times, and then exploded to the right and backwards, creating just enough space between himself and Horford to get the step-back shot off and over his opponent’s outstretched hand.
It was a feeling I had never experienced before—a different type of jubilation. The way nearly 20,000 people tensed up for the entirety of those final 12 seconds, the way the mesh snapped when the ball went cleanly through, the way the Raptors threw their arms skyward in conjunction with every person in the building.
With one perfect dagger, Chris Bosh had sealed two fates—he just didn’t know it.
From that moment on, I became obsessed with the sport. I’d like to think it was a fait accompli, but I suppose I’ll never truly know. The only thing I can be certain of is this: Toronto Raptors basketball is now infused in my DNA, and I wouldn’t change that for all the world.