Toronto Raptors

The first Toronto Raptors game I went to was March 26th, 1996. The game was at the Skydome in Toronto, a stadium meant for baseball games with a seating capacity of 53,000. It was not an ideal place to play or to watch a basketball game, but it was the Raptors’ inaugural season and as a basketball fan I had never seen an actual NBA game before, aside from an exhibition game a few years before. To top it off, the Raptors were playing the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s Bulls. And Dennis Rodman! And Steve Kerr! And Toni Kukoc! I loved that team. I still do. They went on to win 72 games, losing only 10 and setting the NBA record at the time. The Bulls were amazing, the Raptors stunk.

The Raptors beat the Bulls. I was crushed. Looking back, it is actually a cool moment, the first great win for the Raptors and a it was a highlight in their franchise history for a long time. I think it should still be a highlight. Any of the 9 teams that beat the Bulls that season (the Pacers did it twice) should mark those games as wins to remember.

Fast forward over two decades and the Toronto Raptors are the NBA Champions. It was a fun playoff run, and I spent a good portion of it watching games while on vacation in Italy and England on NBA League Pass a day after the games were decided, doing my best to avoid spoilers.

Kawhi was incredible to watch, and before the playoffs started I drew this illustration of him. From 1996-1998 and Jordan’s second retirement I would draw Chicago Bulls players, photocopy them 50 times and hand them out to my friends in high school. It was a good luck thing for me that paid off with 3 straight championships for the Bulls. So I decided to try it again this year (I tried it back in 2012 for the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose proceeded to tear his ACL and the Bulls still haven’t recovered), in the hopes of giving the Raptors some luck. It worked! You’re welcome, Raptors fans.

Kawhi Leonard

Fred Van Vleet