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

Royal Canadian circus coming back to Cloverdale

June dates for rebranded circus in year of expansion into U.S.

Mounties nab wanted man, stolen motorbike, drugs in single incident

Police pulled him over because officers recalled he was banned from driving

Fighting cancer by playing poker – Aldergrove daughter goes ‘all in’ for late mother

Table tickets are sold out but spectators are welcome to come for the buffet, drinks and door prizes

Girls basketball teams to vie for championship in Langley

Top teams from across B.C. arrive next week at the LEC

Suspect stiffed taxi driver during shoplifting getaway in Langley

RCMP are looking for suspects in several local incidents

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

Court awards Surrey Costco shopping cart collector $583K after car pins him

Kurtis Ryan Burdeniuk, 22, was retrieving carts when driver backed into him in the parking lot, pinning him

Monster Jam set to roar back into Vancouver

Monster truck tour to stop at PNE Coliseum in March

One dead in multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on northern B.C. highway

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

B.C. teacher gets 15-year ban after lying about having sex with just-graduated student

Teacher had been dishonest with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Extradition case delayed for South Surrey fugitive caught in U.S. after year-long manhunt

Brandon Nathan Teixeira was arrested in California in December

Most Read