2014 Hero: The Toronto Raptors
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
It’s hard being a Toronto sports fan; despite the fact that our city is the fourth-largest in North America and boasts an enormous sports fanbase, we’re often an also-ran in professional sports. The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their last World Series victory in 1993. Toronto FC has never appeared in Major League Soccer’s postseason. And the Toronto Maple Leafs—the richest team in hockey, located in arguably the most important hockey city in the world—have advanced to the playoffs only once in the last decade, proceeding to lose in the first round.
For a long time, the Toronto Raptors were just another Toronto team, run by passionless corporate interests whose concern was bottom-line revenue rather than winning titles, led by a “star,” Rudy Gay, who had all the pedigree of a star player but none of the accomplishments—a “star” only if you squinted really hard and engaged in some wishful thinking. In the 2013–14 season, the Rudy Raptors established a dreadful 6 and 12 record, the result of truly uncoordinated and unimpressive basketball, and fans settled in for another dreary year. Then Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ new GM, traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for what everybody considered to be the basketball equivalent of spare parts. Everybody assumed the move was meant to signify that the team would be totally rebuilt.
But then the unexpected happened: the Raptors started winning. Without Rudy Gay’s inefficient shooting, the Raptors started scoring better and playing unselfish, team-first basketball. The spare parts Toronto got from Sacramento turned out to be the elements of a rock-solid bench—something the Raps had never truly had before. Kyle Lowry, a super-competitive player who had a reputation in the NBA for being a “difficult” player, finally got his head together and became the Raptors’ leader. DeMar DeRozan finally put all of the physical tools he had together and became a complete player. The Raptors finished 48-34—the best regular-season result in franchise history—and won the Atlantic Division for only the second time. Despite a tough first-round loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the postseason, the Raptors had announced to the league that they were for real.
And they’ve backed that up this season. The Raptors started out with a 18-6 record, and as of this writing are first overall in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Both Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams (a key offseason pickup for the Raptors) have been named NBA Players of the Week; coach Dwane Casey was named NBA Coach of the Month. At this point, it would be nearly impossible for the Raptors to fail to make the playoffs (even though DeRozan is currently injured and expected to be out another three to five weeks). Toronto sports fans have a reason to cheer again—and that’s the most important thing.