It took the Toronto Raptors, Canada’s only remaining NBA franchise, 15 years to come back to Halifax. But when they finally took the leap, they were greeted as if they never even left.
Concluding a week-long training camp held in the city, the Raptors played an exhibition game on Oct. 6 to a healthy crowd, numbering over 7,000 at the Metro Centre.
Watching live NBA action in Halifax is pretty rare, so those lucky enough to see the Raptors play definitely got a bang for their buck. The atmosphere was electric throughout the game. The Dance Pak came out in full force and the only living ‘raptor’ left on the planet, the team’s mascot, entertained the crowd with his antics.
Although the Raptors were split into two teams, the intra-squad game was highly entertaining. Playing in front of this many ecstatic fans even amazed guard Jose Calderon, who said afterward, “I was surprised that there were so many people for an exhibition game.”
Even though Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas and off-season acquisition Kyle Lowry didn’t dress for the game, the stars still came out. The NBA’s first overall pick in 2006, Andrea Bargnani, fourth-year sensation DeMar DeRozan, veteran Jose Calderon and Landry Fields, who signed with the organization after a successful year with the Knicks, all played significant minutes.
Having to impress a packed house, but more importantly, head coach Dwane Casey, players fought hard in order to earn a spot in the team’s final rotation once the regular season gets underway.
For a change, the Raptors look enthusiastic and motivated this year. Coming off an abysmal 2010-2011 season where they finished second last in the Eastern Conference, Casey was brought to Toronto with the reputation of a defensive specialist. Last season, he took a unit that ranked near the bottom of the NBA in every defensive category and transformed the entire culture of the team. After improving to 11th in the East last season, Canada’s club looks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Displaying a little bit of what can be expected this season, the core of young guns led by third-year Ed Davis may be the extra push needed to finally get the Raptors over the threshold and into playoff territory.
The fans, however, didn’t seem to care about Toronto’s lack of playoff appearances in recent years. They welcomed the team to the city wholeheartedly, filling the arena with a sea of red and white jerseys.
Regardless of where you were from or whom you supported, seemingly everyone had smiles on their faces. Well, maybe not everyone—the Halifax Rainmen, sitting directly behind the media, didn’t seem too enthusiastic.
When guard John Lucas threw a lob pass to Ed Davis in thefirst quarter for a huge alley-oop slam, the stadium erupted —except for the Rainmen. When DeRozan finished with authority late in the third quarter, the place erupted, but again the Rainmen showed no reaction. Even the Rainmen’s mascot, Thunder, appeared indifferent in comparison to his NBA counterpart. While The Raptor was performing acrobatic gymnastics, Thunder had trouble doing a simple cartwheel.
What the Raptors organization did for the community here in Halifax is substantial. Not only did all ticket proceeds from last Saturday’s game go to local charities, the many young and impressionable basketball players in the city had the opportunity to see their role models live.
For an organization that pegs itself as Canada’s team, let’s hope this basketball town won’t have to wait 15 years to get another glimpse of live action.