Like most sports fans in Toronto, the Raptors aren't my number one team. I grew up a hockey fan in the winter and a baseball fan in the summer, so it was all Leafs and Blue Jays for me. Unfortunately for the Raptors, as a basketball team in a hockey country, I am not the only one who puts them on the back burner for the winter season.
This season however, the Raptors were placed into the perfect storm. Toronto's winter team, the Maple Leafs, failed to get out of the first round once again and left the people of this great city depressed and searching for something to fill the void. Queue Kawhi Leonard and this revamped Raptors roster.
The narrative of the Raptors postseason success hasn't been all that great over the course of the franchise's history. Every year there would be all sorts of hope that this top of the conference team could run the table and take a shot at the Golden State Warriors, and every year the stars would forget to show up. It didn't help that they continually ran into the greatest basketball player of all time, but the inconsistency of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry was painful to watch.
This year you could tell something was different... or at least someone. I don't care what the MVP voters say, the Raps have the best player in the eastern conference and boy did he prove it in the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard put the Toronto Raptors on his back on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, averaging 31.2 PPG, shooting 50.7% from the floor and 87.5% from the line, all while continuing to make MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo a non factor in the Bucks series. He also gave Toronto a playoff moment so great that it stands up to the home runs from both Joe Carter and Jose Bautista.
It was a moment that will be etched in the memories of sports fans all across the country, whether you follow basketball or not. Things wouldn't end there though. Kawhi put on a legendary performance against the Bucks, and pushed this scrappy Raps team to a place they've never dreamed of being. Judging by the city-wide reaction to the win, he also helped achieve the dreams of Raptors fans across the country.
This team, through all sorts of adversity, has ignited a passion unlike any other across this country. Take a look at your social media today and tell me how many people who aren't usually sports fans are talking about the Raptors today. Whether it's because of the walking controversy that is Drake, the feel good story that is Fred VanVleet shooting the lights out for his newborn son, or the redemption story for Kyle Lowry, this team has carried this incredible aura that has resonated throughout the country.
Maybe they're taking advantage of a lack of any sort of hockey, or the fact that the Blue Jays are a steaming pile of trash this season, but there is no question that this Raptors team has grabbed the torch as "Canada's team" and ran with it. If you haven't jumped on-board to this bandwagon yet, it may be time to hop on and enjoy the ride.