#WeTheOther is about more than just sports pride.
I grew up in a basketball neighbourhood. It was the stretch of Dixon Road between Islington and Kipling avenues, predominantly made up of Somali or South Asian immigrants. Despite our 416 area code, you would be hard pressed to see a Leafs jersey anywhere on my block. I can’t say I’ve met anyone from Dixon that was on a Little League team, either. However, without fail, as soon as school let out kids would run to the back of the local elementary school to shoot around whenever it was warm enough to. The older boys dominated the court, sandwiched between the six white, brick high rises, donated to the neighbourhood by iconic former Toronto Raptor Vince Carter in 2003. Despite never playing ball (or any sports, for that matter), I still get a tinge of hometown and neighbourhood pride when I walk by that court and see the VC logo on the now well-worn backboards.
At the core of being a Raptors fan is this sense you were always the “other” in Canada and Leafs-obsessed Toronto, long before the team was left out of CBS Sports’s poll, sparking #WeTheOther. Even with success of the “We The North” branding, the franchise hasn’t always received a lot of support outside of Southern Ontario. But as the Raptors wade deeper into the post-season than ever before, their fans are being put under the microscope.
Out of the words that have been used to describe Raptors fan, “young” and “diverse” are most used. An Indiana Pacers fan from south of the border was perplexed by all the “Canadian Indian Muslims” that travel town to town to support the team. They’ve also been described as some of the most dedicated, energetic fans in the league. “Not normal,” one Indiana columnist called them. These distinctions bring Raptors fans together.
That we’re different from other fan bases in this city can be worn as a badge of honour, even if this latest series against LeBron and the Cavs is particularly hard to watch.
Notably, it creates a culture that’s inviting to recent immigrants. Super fan, Nav Bhatia, used his love of the sport and commitment to the team since the franchise first entered the city as a way to break down stereotypes surrounding South Asians, particularly Sikhs, and increasing their visibility. The Canadian Chinese Youth Athletic Association offers an in-depth basketball development program and holds tournaments all across the GTA. Like Bhatia, the CCYAA has close ties to the Raptors franchise.
As a sport that is affordable to play and welcoming to outsiders, it’s no wonder why Toronto neighbourhoods where basketball is the most popular sport are also among the most ethnically diverse. That aspect of basketball culture in this city is something to be proud of—for fans and players alike.
When the Raptors get snubbed by international media, it can be irksome. But it’s not surprising. The team hasn’t traditionally garnered the same kind of coverage across the country as hockey teams or even the Blue Jays have. They haven’t been around as long, and have never won a championship. Still, fans of the Raptors, and Canadian basketball fans in general, are loyal to the team and to the culture.
Sports and national identity are strongly interconnected. The Raptors fan base challenges traditional Canadiana, trading the hockey stick in for ball, the ice in for hardwood or concrete—and they’re not predominantly white.
It’s still Canada, just not the kind you see on a Tim Horton’s cup.