By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The “6” is lit and the Toronto Raptors are shining for all of North America to see.
Drake’s Raptors officially grew up from baby dinosaurs to the baddest predators in the NBA, creating history in winning their first ever world championship Thursday night in the last game ever played at Oracle Arena, in the process becoming the first non-American franchise to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy as they eliminated the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games.
In dethroning the celebrated five-year dynasty of the Warriors, the Raptors have done much of significance, primarily in showing the world once again that you do not have to have multiple superstars to win in the NBA, nor do you have to be in in one of the league’s favored markets (Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, etc) to be best in position to win it all.
Furthermore, the cultural significance in this team bringing a championship to Canada highlights the importance of the NBA’s support of international play and diversity/inclusion and likely accelerates the plans as expressed by commissioner Adam Silver in establishing NBA franchises overseas.
Before we get into that, lets fully appreciate the historical dynasty of the Warriors.
Klay Thompson said at a press conference during the series that he knew all good things must come to an end, and the time has come where the Dubs’ dynasty no longer drives the narrative in the NBA, at least for the time being.
A comeback for the Dubs could still be possible, but the team took many losses in their six-game defeat to the Toronto Raptors, the latest being Thompson himself, who’s been confirmed as suffering a torn ACL in the season’s final game.
At the core for the reasoning for the Warriors’ loss is the injuries they had to suffer through, primarily those of Thompson and Kevin Durant. It is very hard to make one NBA Finals, let alone win multiples. The Warriors went to five straight. Much of the same talent that began that run played through this season as well, Thompson, for instance, played in over 100 playoff games before missing a single one during this run.
Playing in five straight NBA Finals it is of no surprise that players get tired physically and mentally fatigued and more susceptible to injuries, the type of which can tear down a season.
The Warriors of this season featured an insane amount of star power, including five established all-stars with recent signee DeMarcus Cousins. However, paying for five all-stars cost Golden State its normal luxury of paying for a quality bench. Without its normal exceptional depth this team lost steam with Thompson and Durant missing most of the series and impactful players like Andre Iguodala, Cousins and Kevon Looney playing through nagging injuries that limited their effectiveness.
But even with the series loss, the journey was special, and should this be the end of their Finals run going 3-2 puts the current Warriors high on the list of greatest NBA teams of all time. Ask the team if their dynasty is terminated though and you’ll likely get funny looks — the kind of confidence and self-belief that got them to this point isn’t going away any time soon. If they turn out to just be reloading for the ’19-20 season we’ll have to look back at their initial responses Thursday night as the initial proof that they were down but not out.
Going back to the team that defeated the dynasty. The Raptors represent what the league truly wants to achieve currently: success in all facets of the game without the obviousness a super-team can provide. But beyond the court, more significance in this championship is represented by its architect, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
After failing to reach the Finals in previous years thanks to the King of East in LeBron James, Ujiri — the only person of African descent leading a league front office — made a huge decision to first fire head coach Dwayne Casey, who at the time led the Raptors to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and was awarded Coach of the Year to bring in different leadership in the culture.
Ujiri accused of hitting police officer (USA Today)
Then he takes a huge risk in trading fan favorite all-star DeMar DeRozan for champion Danny Green and eventual Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, knowing that the latter may be a one-year rental with reports surfacing since last season that he wants to be in Los Angeles long-term. As players like Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, another African, and Fred VanVleet continued to develop, Ujiri traded for Marc Gasol at the trade deadline and signed Chinese/Taiwanese standout Jeremy Lin at the buyout period.
All of these moves were created to keep the Raptors on top and prepare themselves for the challenging moments they experienced throughout the playoffs. As a result, excellent composure, veteran leadership and discipline on both ends of the court — all necessary components to win a championship — showed themselves as the Raptors went from underdogs to big dogs.
As the celebration reigns North of the boarder, there may be a feeling for many in the States to feel left out. American NBA fans may just have to get used to that kind of feeling, or expand their horizons much like Silver already has.
Commissioner Silver told Sam Amick of USA Today in 2017 that his vision for the future of the league includes expansion towards international markets. In the time since, the NBA has continued expanding their preseason and regular season contests in international cities such as London and Mexico City.
“… We do see enormous opportunity in Mexico City and think it could become the franchise for Latin America,” Silver said.
“Mexico City is a city with over 20 million people, a country of 130 million people, and a huge Mexican American population. We’re only looking at it from a more general standpoint—and we’re playing games (there) again in Dec. It’s something we’ll continue to keep eye on.”
The NBA as much as any league puts itself at the forefront for instituting plans promoting diversity and inclusion. The Raptors’ championship run brings championship diversity on a representative level, giving an excuse for more support to come from non-American fan bases.
This historic championship highlights the successes of efforts the league has put in place since the Raptors first season in 1996 and serves as a stepping stone in fulfilling Silver’s vision of making the NBA the first American-born league that could one day crown a true world’s champion.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media