One Ring to Rule Them All: On the Raptors’ Unforgettable Season Opener

Written By: Joshua Howe

For one night, it was there—all of it—emanating from tribute and hype videos, radiating from the grins and tears of the players, and encapsulated by the boisterous vitality of a fan base hungry to represent it. 

The past, present, and future of the Toronto Raptors was on full display in their season opener, a night that began with a ring ceremony and concluded with an overtime thriller. But it wasn’t so simple as handing out hardware and playing a basketball game—no, from the first moment the lights went out and the crowd began to rumble in anticipation, every second was a marker, a palpable, real-time indicator of what was, what is, and what will be.

The first major marker came in the form of the initial tribute video, a concise, eye-popping recollection of the Raptors’ post-season trials and tribulations from their opening series against the Orlando Magic to their eventual finale against the Golden State Warriors. Not everything in the franchise’s history was revisited, of course, but it was there, serving as the foundation for an electric response that touched both fans and players alike.

“I mean you only really remember Game 6 so you kind of forget what the ride was and the journey and what it took to get there,” Fred VanVleet said post-game, when asked about the video. “It also was a reminder of what it meant to the fans in the city and the country. It was just cool to recap all of that, get that ring, and then finish it out with a win. That’s a pretty good night.”

The move to the present was swift for, after all, that’s what ring ceremonies are all about: The destination.

As expected, the next 20-or-so minutes were pure euphoria, with staffers coming out to receive their rings first—and those who had already received them—from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver before the players trotted out, one by one, to have their moment.

But it was when the last name was called that all of the energy in the arena that had been building from the instant the Larry O’Brien trophy was wheeled out onto the floor erupted in a glorious, roisterous boom that shook the hardwood and rattled the rafters. The emotions of watching Kyle Lowry get bejewelled at centre-court rolled over nearly 20,000 people like a tidal wave bursting in every direction—a championship ripple.

“This is one of those things where, me personally, I’ve waited my whole career to get here,” Lowry said, pre-game. “The city has waited 24 years, the country, for basketball to get to this point. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be an exciting night. The crowd is going to be into it. There’s going to be a lot of juice in the building. The atmosphere is going to be top notch.”

More than just the face of the franchise receiving his hard-earned hardware, the moment—and the following one, in which he pointed up at the championship banner as it was unveiled—cemented Lowry as intrinsically tied to the peak of Raptors basketball. He has been and continues to be the motor of the team, consistently powering them to unexpected heights, acting as the on-court maestro whose game has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

At the present juncture, the Raptors are NBA champions, and nothing harkens to that reality more than the fact that Lowry is, too.

Then came basketball and, with it, a glimpse at the future.

Standing out more than veterans like Lowry and Marc Gasol—so much so that the game could be described as a passing of the torch—the team’s young upstarts in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Terence Davis all contributed to Toronto’s narrow victory.

Siakam and VanVleet, in particular, shined in their newly elevated roles. In Siakam’s first performance as the club’s go-to player, he dropped 34 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, and a block in 38 minutes. The franchise cornerstone was everywhere on the glass, glided to the hoop at every available opportunity in transition, worked his magic in the post, and—before fouling out in the fourth quarter—proved just how potent he can be in clutch minutes, scoring seemingly at will.

“He was pretty good,” Nick Nurse said of Siakam after the game. “He was carrying us there for lots of stretches. There wasn’t a lot of crispness to our offence, wasn’t a lot of movement and cutting like we’d like to play. I think it was our energy level a little bit. We had to go to him time and time again for stretches and he produced.”

VanVleet, too, produced. He racked up a comparable line of 34 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and two steals in 44 minutes while running the pick and roll to perfection, making intelligent decisions each time he had the ball in his hands, and creating for himself more than ever before. The Rockford native also continued to build on his stellar pre-season by shooting well off-the-dribble and finishing difficult shots at the rim on an impressively consistent basis.

Although the game wound up being perhaps a tad tighter than the Raptors would have liked, it showcased just how good the young duo—both players are 25 years old, only just about to enter their primes—can be, and the potential that’s there for them and the rest of the budding core to improve even further.

Indeed, the Raptors’ season opener contained a little bit of everything—past, present, future. Instances like these are exceedingly rare and, even if Toronto eventually wins another title, this particular one can never be replicated.
But for one night, it was there.

All of it.

“We might have one last dinner tonight just to celebrate again,” Siakam said with a smile, “but after that kind of move on to the season. We’re excited.”

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