The dawn of the NBA in Canada happened in 1995.  I still remember watching that first Vancouver Grizzlies win being exposed for what was one of the first times to NBA basketball as a kid growing up in a “hockey-centric” city (The city’s NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks had most recently gone to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals).  That first win, as remarkable as it was, was followed by several frustrating seasons as a Grizzlies fan and much of the same, although to a lesser extent was true for the country’s other NBA franchise, the Toronto Raptors, who also debuted it’s existence as an NBA team in Canada in 1995.  The Canadian dollar was weak compared to it’s US counterparts, and both the Raptors and Grizzlies failed to attract any significant elite talent from south of the border, other than their very own draft picks.  Even Steve Francis, drafted 2nd overall by the Grizzlies was one of their most anticipated draft pickups, but refused to play in Vancouver, citing personal reasons, taxes among other things.  That prompted one of the NBA’s largest trades, which included 11 players and 3 teams, and without playing a single game with the Grizz, Francis joined the Houston Rockets.

The Grizzlies, ofcourse were moved to Memphis in 2001, after the team was sold to the late Michael Heisley, who promised to keep the team in Western Canada, but then immediately started proceedings to move the team to the south.

The Raptors, with the drafting of Vince Carter, a future hall-of-famer, became Canada’s team.  However, despite “Air Canada” making a buzz throughout the NBA, the lack of playoff success continued to be a downfall for Toronto’s largest city.  Vince, along with other stars like Tracy McGrady all left town eventually and really put a halt to the momentum the Raptors had slowly been building.  After the departure of Carter, the official Chris Bosh era started in Toronto.  Bosh became the franchise player, but never seemed to be able to take the Raptors to that next level.  Many trades and signings included non-elite talent.  Bosh as we know it, also left town to pursue his dream for an NBA title, and joined Lebron James and Dwayne Wade in Miami, where his dream came true.

Fast track to 2015, GM Masai Ujiri, slowly, but surely is changing the culture in Toronto and in Canada to not only attract talent, but to give Toronto an identity.  In 2013, at a season ticket holder event, I briefly met with the man in charge and asked about how he thinks he can attract more talent to Toronto.  Refreshingly, Masai spoke about a change of “culture” and really changing the perception around the NBA that players don’t want to play in Toronto.  He and the team, have really embraced the fact that the Raptors are “Canada’s team” and this has been evident from the team’s work, spearheaded by Masai himself, or “re-branding” and pursuing the best for the team regardless of outcome.  Two straight playoff appearances, the “We The North” campaign which in itself has put Toronto on the map on a much larger scale, the presence of Raptor fans at away games, the pursuit of players such as Lemarcus Aldridge, and the increase in homegrown talent including the likes of Andrew Wiggins are all pieces of a puzzle that is looking more and more complete.  This Summer’s offseason moves, including the acquisition of Toronto’s very own, Corey Joseph combined with a strategy to give the team an identity on the court, adding DeMarre Carroll, veteran Luis Scola and Bizmack Biyombo, who already looks like will be a fan favorite.  This in addition to the already existing talent of all-star caliber players such as Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan, and a future allstar hopeful, Jonas Valančiūnas.

This is indeed Canada’s team.  We The North.

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About The Author

Nizar Budhwani
Founder, Social Infinity

Our very own "tech junkie". Loves to travel, loves technology and loves bringing technology together with all aspects of life. Nizar has vast experience in the travel, healthcare and automotive industries, all backed by a wealth of knowledge in technology and more recently a focus on digital marketing & social media. Did we mention he loves to travel? Also a huge fan of the NBA's Toronto Raptors and the NHL's Vancouver Canucks

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