we the north

Today marks a full week since the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA rings.

Man, there is so much to unpack in that one sentence.

Living in Canada this past week has felt like a fever dream, or one of those victory montages that they tack on to the end of the sports movies because there’s really nothing left of the story to unfold but they still have to hammer in that teamwork indeed made the dream work. A token heterosexual main couple kissing, someone waving to their kids, someone lifted up on another player’s shoulders, someone holding the trophy up in the air in a soundless whoop since by then the chosen Sports Movie Finale Song™ would be swelling. Complete and utter chaos, in retrospect — but a beautiful one at that, nothing but adrenaline-fueled euphoria in a sea of equally euphoric people.

Much has been written across international news outlets about the way that Toronto erupted when the Raptors were officially declared champions last Thursday, but blogTO captures it best because blogTO always delivers with that pure Torontonian spirit. They did a good job with it the night of the last Bucks win as well. All of it makes me so giddy, god. 

Still, it’s worth giving a shoutout to the video coverage from both BBC and Citynews, and to toast to this gem from CBC’s write-up: 

At the downtown Toronto intersection of Front Street and University Avenue, a young man named Ali joined a handful of fans celebrating the Toronto Raptors NBA championship victory over the Golden State Warriors by climbing one of the traffic light poles.

Asked why he was up there, he simply replied, "We're the six!'

That pretty much sums up the state Toronto is currently in. The state that it has been in since last Thursday, a frenzy that reached a peak this last Monday for the Raptors parade but did not break. Practically all of Canada has been Jurassic Park; the whole country has been celebrating this win loudly and proudly, and — caught in the middle of it all, and as a life-long basketball fan raised by life-long basketball fans — I am on cloud nine.

There’s really not much of a point to this post other than to emphasize how thrilling it is to be part of history as it’s happening. Last Thursday was one of those nights I know people will ask about someday, a where were you when… kind of query that I’ll be more than happy to answer because I was, in fact, watching the game, screaming all by myself at the screen, and I was happy doing it, thank you very much. 

It’s both wonderful and frustrating that there’s no concrete way to articulate how this feels to someone who lives outside Canada. It’s one thing to see it on the news, but to actually feel it — to see so many people wearing Raptors gear on the street, to see so many new fans commenting on Serge’s YouTube show or Danny’s podcast, to see video after video of Toronto coming so, so alive at the championship news — is a different kind of exhilarating altogether. A different kind of adrenaline, a different kind of livewire. That quote from The Raven Cycle that goes somewhere along the lines of ‘they were loud and triumphant and kings of Henrietta’? That was me. That was 90% of Toronto. 

I’ve gotten choked up over every Raptors-related thing these past few days, I admit. But when plenty of other people are doing the exact same, I don’t really want to mock myself for how easily overwhelmed I get when faced with mass over-emotion. It’s fine. I deserve to cry watching full train cars of people singing “O Canada.” I deserve to cry hearing Lowry say, Toronto, this is for you, and for that to be followed by an aerial shot of a packed, cheering Jurassic Park. I deserve to feel as close to patriotic as I’ve ever come. Canada has housed me for nine years now, but last Thursday was the first night I truly, truly, truly felt like there was no other country I would rather call home. Purely because this Raptors win came with a sense of unity that no other Canadian event has, and purely because there’s something magical about seeing such a diverse, multi-faceted country come together to cheer for a sport that not many would even consider Canadian. 

It’s a loyalty thing, I suppose. I’ll confess that before this season I was a dedicated Spurs follower, and it was only because of Kawhi and Danny (and Tony Parker’s impending retirement) that I moved over to the Raptors. Not out of any real sense of city or country pride, but because on a personal, perhaps superficial level, I trusted these players. Serge, Marc, Pascal, Freddy, even as I mourn the loss of JV, Jakob and DeRozan. It’s rare to find a team with the kind of synergy that makes me yearn to see them triumph; the Raptors have given me that this season and more. Supporting them for the past several months has been nothing short of an honour, and for all of that to reach a climax with an actual historic first win — I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life, as I’m sure millions of other people will as well. 

I keep using magical to describe last week, but that’s honestly the only word I can use. The Raptors win unlocked all our collective Jungian animi and unleashed the proud Canadian in each of us, no matter where you stood on the country itself. It’s great. Seeing the people propped on lamp posts, the people chanting Let’s Go Raptors in the streets hours after the game was done — really, it’s magic. 

My decision not to attend the Raptors parade last Monday was a wise one (see: TSN’s coverage), considering the mess and the shooting and the stabbing, but a large part of me still wishes I was there. You only get to breathe in this level of history once in your life. There’s a reason Matt Damon’s character was so aghast in Good Will Hunting when he found out Robin Williams’ character gave up a ticket to a historic baseball game. You don’t just give that up, no matter what. I wouldn’t trade last Thursday for anything. 

I realize I sound like a jock in all of this. Or some dude-bro policing who gets to call their self a Raptors fan. But if we’re being honest, much of this phenomenon is not really about the sports thing. It was in the beginning, for those of us who have been hesitant to believe in the Raptors after all the polarizing views on the recent trade, but by the series against the Bucks, it might as well have been an Olympic event. A whole country waiting with bated breath, watching a sport that a lot of them are only touching this once. 

(Like snowboarding in the Pyeongchang Olympics. Everyone was suddenly a snowboarding expert after watching Chloe Kim eat churros once. By everyone, I mean myself. Plus, as far as sports go, basketball is on the low-maintenance side in terms of knowing how it works. You can’t go wrong with basketball. When basketball works, you know it works, and not just because a whole nation explodes with manic pride around you.) 

The kind of happiness that thrummed through the GTA — and, I would assume, many other parts of Canada — is one I wish I can bottle up and relive whenever I need it. Maybe sneak a drop of it into a drink, have some Essence of Raptors Euphoria when the mental health situation is dire. Sports movies might be onto something with those emotional final scenes and post-credits. It’s kind of addicting, in that you know you’ll only feel this way once in your life because this kind of situation is once-in-a-lifetime.

This past season has fried my nerves and tested the strength of my heart more than anything ever has. No jumpscare and no amount of stage fright will come close from here on out. (Don’t quote me on that.) But while I’m relieved all that stressful overexcitement is over, there’s still the matter of whether Kawhi and Danny will stay — and whether Pascal will win Most Improved Player because I swear to God if he doesn’t, I will lose it. I now know I have it in me to tap into my animus and lose it. 

I will lose it if Siakam doesn’t get MIP. So give him the award. 

In any case, all of this has been extra fun a couple of weeks before Canada Day. No one has ever celebrated Canada Day like we all celebrated the Raptors win, and the amount of hilarity I find in that is probably a little offensive. Then again, all of this has been really fun, even — maybe especially — with my vocal cords permanently damaged from screaming FREDDY and NO and WHY WOULD YOU GIVE THAT TO KLOW and FUCK THIS REF

Fred VanVleet sacrificed a tooth for this. I’ll enjoy it as much as I can. It’s worth it for the chance to live in this timeline, doomed as it is, and worth it for edits as legendary as this