My First Raps Memory: In An Instant Nothing Was the Same
By: Holly MacKenzie
Whenever I'm asked about how I became a basketball fan I’m never really sure of the appropriate answer. The truth is I can’t remember ever not being a fan. It’s difficult to recall a time when the game didn’t exist within my daily life and thought process. Whether it was watching whatever game would be on television, pushing the limits of dial-up internet listening to radio streams while huddled over the computer with headphones in, checking scores in the morning paper, or feeling entirely, dramatically forlorn in the summer months back when the offseason was truly the offseason, the NBA has just always been there.
Growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia before league pass and basketball Twitter, when the thought of an actual NBA Championship banner hanging in the rafters in Toronto was but a pleasant passing daydream, the Raptors weren’t even the first team to capture my attention. But once they had, well, they haven’t stopped.
sidenote: -- thank you for everything, Vince, I cannot believe you are still playing and this is actually my favourite unexpected NBA storyline.
Of course, there are various moments and memories that jump out a bit more than others whenever I’m asked how the Raptors factored into my personal sports journey. While I couldn’t get enough of the NBA growing up, my mother had zero interest in the sport. This is the part of the story where I share that we lost my father in a boating accident 10 days before my fourth birthday, that he had been a fanatical Maple Leafs fan and that as I grew up, completely uninterested in the sport that is our country’s national pastime, relatives would tell me I had inherited my father’s passion for sport, just not the same one.
Because my mother hadn’t fallen victim to the siren song of shoe’s squeaking on the hardwood, there was a limit to how lenient she would be with my bedtime when it came to watching games. Specifically, away games on the west coast with an 11:30 P.M. Nova Scotia tip-off time were a no-go on school nights. This is where my grandmother enters into the picture. Why my mother’s own mother didn’t share the same regard for my rest I’ll never know, but will forever be grateful. When the Raptors would head west, I would head to my grandmothers. After calling my mother to wish her goodnight, I’d open the yellow-tweed ottoman in the living room and break out the seemingly never-ending stash of Twix bars and Halloween-sized bags of chips. After wishing my grandfather goodnight, my grandmother would bring out her knitting needles and we’d flip the channel to the Raptors game. I know now that my grandmother wasn’t interested in the game, but in spending those hours with her granddaughter, the clock creeping late into the night as she knit mittens, scarves and socks while I ate both halves of the Twix bar.
After leaving home for university, those nights with my grandmother were less frequent, but her support for whatever I loved never wavered. In my senior year of university, I knew I wanted to become a sports writer. I’d spent all four of my years at university working as the basketball manager of the women’s team at my school, but still had yet to attend an NBA game. Soon after, my grandmother surprised me with a gift that only increases in meaning as time goes on. Cashing in her AirMiles, she gifted me a flight to Toronto to attend an NBA game in person. On February 9th, 2007, a friend and I flew to Toronto to see the Los Angeles Lakers fall 96-92 to the Raptors. Immediately upon arriving, I realized I’d left the tickets on my desk in my room in Nova Scotia. Panic ensued and phone calls were made. I don’t remember how this was solved in the days before our phones held our ticket barcodes, but it was fixed and we were able to attend the game. Those forgotten tickets have remained with me, living in the top drawer of every desk I’ve had since, serving as a reminder of the beginning.
To be honest, I remember very little of this game itself, the details existing in my memory a haze. The boxscore tells me that Chris Bosh scored a game-high 29 points, while Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 25 points and that Morris Peterson drilled a three with 1:49 remaining to give the Raptors a 93-92 lead and that the Lakers did not score again. What I do remember are the tiniest details, the chairs that made up the visitor’s bench next to the baseline section we were sitting in, the security guard seated opposite the court, facing the stands, the pile of discarded warmups. I remember the couple sitting eight or so rows below us, who we had spoken to on the walk-in, who were delighted at our excitement, allowing us to sit in their (better) seats throughout the first half. I remember trying so hard to grasp onto every single thing that was happening, every timeout huddle, every foul called, every ref’s whistle. What the players were saying to each other, the songs that were playing during the game, the cheers of the crowd. There was Chris Bosh and there was Kobe Bryant and there was Anthony Parker and wow, T.J. Ford looks so much smaller than expected while everyone else seems so impossibly larger than life. I remember buzzing, the only way to describe how things felt in that arena, how I felt in that arena, surrounded by 20,012 people who shared my passion for the game and this sport, no not any other one, but this one.
After the game we somehow ended up by the visitor’s bench and I remember touching the chairs, desperately trying to connect myself to the moment, to the arena, and to this world that I knew I needed to become part of. On the drive back to where we were staying, I remember feeling elated, but also sad, already wishing I could go back to that feeling. When I got to my room that night I sank to the floor and cried, the overwhelming emotion from the events of the day needing to go somewhere. When I was unable to sleep that night, too keyed up from the entire day, I made a brainstorm mindmap of the night, writing down as many details from the game and the arena that I could remember.
A few months after that game, I graduated from university. A year later, I took the leap, deciding to move to Toronto in hopes of getting to write about the NBA and recapture the magic of how I felt in that arena. This time, the assist goes to my mother. Despite being a bit unsure about basketball being the direction her daughter wanted to take and officially not just a phase, she fully supported my plan. In addition to her support, she literally, physically assisted the move, as she and my aunt loaded up her car and drove me from Nova Scotia to Toronto and the apartment I’d be living in.
That move was 11 years ago. Thankfully, gratefully, I have gotten to write about the league and the Raptors in the time since. During that time, there have been many changes to the industry and the game and everything in between. What hasn’t changed has been that electric energy inside Scotiabank Arena. No matter how many games you attend, no matter the opponent, team record or storyline, when the arena gets dark and the intro announcements start booming over the speaker it is impossible not to feel the rush. Over these 11 years a lot has changed with the Raptors, too. From Chris Bosh’s departure to DeMar DeRozan’s tenure, to Kawhi Leonard’s season of excellence, Pascal Siakam’s present, Kyle Lowry’s legacy and a freaking NBA Championship banner hanging in the rafters in Toronto, it’s been an unbelievable ride watching it all unfold.
There have been some surprises along the way, too. When we talk about the rise of basketball in Canada, the conversation is usually focused on Canadian youth. The Raptors haven’t just inspired a younger generation of basketball fans, though. While it was my grandmother who shared in my passion in earlier years (even if her actual interest wasn’t the game at all), sometime during the 2014 season, it happened.
Roughly 30 years slower than my preferred timeline, my mother fell for the Toronto Raptors. Just like her daughter, she is unable to pinpoint one particular moment, knowing only that once it began to take hold, nothing was the same. Now the same woman who wouldn’t allow me to stay up for those late-night west coast road trips will message at 2:15 A.M. her time from Nova Scotia, lamenting that she has allowed herself to stay up until the end of the game again with an early morning wake-up coming the next day. Refusing to name a favourite player, it’s obvious that the correct answer is Kyle Lowry. And Pascal Siakam. And Fred VanVleet. And also, yes, DeMar DeRozan. The woman who was unsure if my passion was a passing phase is now insulted when I deliver NBA news because she has already watched The Jump or read the headlines, or saw a highlight clip.
Now, there’s not a Raptors game that goes by without my mother texting her commentary throughout. During the 2019 Finals, you’d never believe she’d only started watching the team five years earlier. When Game 6 finally ended and the Raptors became NBA Champions, the sheer joy I heard in her voice as she called and said “I can’t believe it” instead of “hello” matched the joy I felt at that first Raptors game I’d attended. It’s a kind of magic that can’t be explained.
I didn’t cover this year’s Christmas game, a first in franchise history to be played at home, because I was home, in Nova Scotia, with my mom. In year’s past, I used to have to barter for television time to watch games on the holiday. This year we watched the Raptors kick off the day’s coverage and then continued to watch the rest of the games together, including the Pelicans and Nuggets 11:30 P.M. tip-off, a cheese plate taking the place of Twix bars and knitting needles.
When we talk about the Raptors inspiring an entire country, I get emotional because I’m reminded of the gift the team has given me. In addition to directly influencing my career direction and ambitions, as well as being the reason why I chose to live in this city, after a lifetime of waiting for my mother to join the party, she has arrived.
When the Raptors defeated the Charlotte Hornets in overtime on Wednesday night, a text from my mother came through just a few minutes after we’d shared messages about Terence Davis’s brilliant game: “DEN and DAL tied at 100 in the 4th. U watching?”