Raptors named The Canadian Press team of the year for historic championship run

Raptors earned 61 of 67 votes in a poll of writers, broadcasters and editors across the country

Fans cheered on the Toronto Raptors from all corners of Canada, gathering around televisions in bars and living rooms and squeezing shoulder to shoulder in city squares for mass public viewings.

Masai Ujiri has long referred to the Raptors as Canada’s team — and for a few glorious weeks last spring, they truly were.

“The momentum of the championship run brought fans from all over the country, and it seemed like unification,” the Raptors president said. “Everywhere you looked — Montreal, Vancouver — you saw fans watching.”

“It’s what we’ve always said, it’s one team, one country, and if you can put it together that way and you’re good, there’ll be unified support. We saw that.”

On Saturday, the Raptors were rewarded for their historic NBA championship run by winning the team of the year award from The Canadian Press for 2019 in a slam dunk.

The Raptors earned 61 of 67 votes in a poll of writers, broadcasters and editors across the country.

“The entire country rallied around the Raptors. Million-plus celebration in downtown Toronto. And really, a remarkable feat,” said Phil King, The Globe and Mail’s sports design editor.

Canada’s Davis Cup tennis team, the runner-up at the Finals, was second with five votes, while Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan, gold medallists at the world beach volleyball championships, were third (one).

Olympic ice dance champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the 2018 team award. Only one other basketball team has been honoured — the Canadian team that won the U19 FIBA World Cup in 2017.

The Raptors became the first Canadian team to claim a title in one of the four major North American leagues since the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and ‘93.

“Not only did they win the battles on the court, they also won the hearts and minds of Canadians coast to coast, becoming the first team outside the U.S. to win the NBA title,” Global’s lead of special projects George Browne. “The celebration culminated in the largest victory parade ever for a Canadian sports team, 2 million strong.”

With a lunchbucket collection of players carrying big chips, the Raptors made it easy to cheer for them. They defied the odds, winning with a squad that boasted zero NBA lottery picks — superstar Kawhi Leonard was the highest draft pick at No. 15.

The only NBA squad outside the U.S. gave the league a truly global champion. The Raptors’ roster mirrored the city’s diversity, with players from all corners of the globe — Cameroon, Congo, Spain, China, England and Canada. The team was led by Ujiri, who was born in England and raised in Nigeria by his Nigerian dad and Kenyan mom.

The playoffs were packed with ”where were you when” moments, and images so remarkable they’ll be among Canadian sports’ most enduring.

There was a bloodied Fred VanVleet sprawled on the court, a chunk of his tooth on the ground a few feet away. There was VanVleet, mouth open in a guttural scream — with broken tooth and bandaged cheek — after hitting a vital three-pointer in a series-clinching Game 6 victory versus Golden State. There was champagne-drenched Leonard dancing in goggles in the celebratory locker-room. And there was of course the shot, the Leonard buzzer-beater that famously bounced four times off the rim before falling, sending Toronto to the conference finals and fans into a frenzy.

Ujiri hasn’t paused to watch any of last season’s playoffs, but sees highlights at various functions he attends.

“You just see moments from the championship run, and you actually remember exactly where you were during those times. It brings some shivers through you,” Ujiri said. “One thing that’s stupid about our job is you’re so in the mood of now, you’re thinking about the season now, but every now and then I’ll see Freddy screaming with his scar, or you see Kawhi run and dunk with his left hand … just moments. They’re all precious.”

Coach Nick Nurse watched the first-round series versus Orlando because it happened to be on TV while he was home one recent afternoon.

“(That series) seems insignificant but it wasn’t, it was probably what catapulted us more than anything, losing that Game 1 and playing so well in Game 2, that I say that was where we got our belief,” Nurse said. “I even said it: If we play like this, we can go all the way. But it’s still amazing to see the pictures man, of the crowds from the parade, and crowds outside the arena, and really truly how well the team played.”

Capturing the Larry O’Brien Trophy was a story a quarter of a century in the making, and the colossal punctuation mark on a season that started off with plenty of questions. Ujiri had fired coach Dwane Casey, replacing him with Nurse, a rookie head coach, and swapped franchise icon DeMar DeRozan for Leonard, an unknown commodity who’d played just nine games the previous season due to injury.

But Leonard was treated with kid gloves; the Raptors made “load management” part of the team’s lexicon, resting the star for one game of back-to-backs. And the careful treatment paid off massively with Leonard’s performance in the post-season.

The one big negative on the year was Leonard’s depature to Los Angeles in the off-season. But Raptors fans were more grateful than hateful, greeting the player who was known as the “King of the North” with an emotional standing ovation when the Clippers played in Toronto recently.

Nurse said the team of the year honour sums up how Canada was “captivated by the Raptors.”

And the Raptors had never won the award, “so another first for the Raptors — and I think a really cool time for basketball in Canada.”

Tennis star Bianca Andreescu captured the Bobbie Rosenfeld award for the female athlete of the year on Thursday, while moguls standout Mikael Kingsbury won his second consecutive Lionel Conacher Award for male athlete of the year Friday.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Kootenay SAR crews rescue injured mountain biker near Rossland

Crews were called in to help after the biker seriously injured himself at around noon Saturday

Nelson teachers union president worried about members ahead of return to classes

Carla Wilson says there are a lot of questions remaining

Pop-up drive-in theatre shows Only in Nelson

The event was a collaboration between the Civic Theatre and Kootenay Co-op Radio

Suspected fentanyl and cocaine seized during RCMP search in Castlegar

Two men were taken into police custody during the search warrant

Morning start: This is the fastest growing city in the Kootenays

Here is your Kootenays’ morning start for Monday, May 25

Help the Nelson Star continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Black Press is now accepting donations to keep its papers operating

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Most Read