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Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard street art.

He The North

Date Posted: June 13, 2019Reading time: 3 minutes

Since it’s only a few hours until game six of the NBA Finals in Toronto, Ontario, you’d think a guy might hold his tongue. But what’s the fun in that? The Raps will win the championship, even if it goes 7 games. Here is why.

The Raptors are a great team with a superstar. The Warriors are a great collection of superstars, but not a team. They are typical in a league that is infested with ‘Superstar Syndrome’, where players jump from team to team to look for rings and recognition. The Toronto Raptors are atypical. They have somehow managed to build stability in the land of hockey and honey crullers–how? I think it is a combination of three things: isolation, The Six (or perhaps more accurately, the 905) and branding.

1. Isolation

Like Australia and New Zealand, who have punched way above their weight on the world scene because of their isolation, being isolated in the Great White North has forced the Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment to do things a little different. It was only a few short years ago that a Raptors ticket was pretty easy to get your hands on. Now, after four years and 236 consecutive sellouts, Raps tickets are like gold in Toronto. So, what has this isolation brought us besides Jurassic Park (over 40 of them across the country during these playoffs, including Halifax) and a more international lineup? It has brought the love and adoration of an entire nation.

2. The Six

A lot of teams across many sports have managed to galvanize a nation. Think about the Canadian Men’s Olympic 2010 Hockey Team, or the 2012 Olympic Women’s Soccer Team or, most recently, the Icelandic Men’s World Cup Soccer Team. But these have almost always been national teams. Rarely have teams from a single city been able to stir up a nation the way the Raptors have.

It’s also no accident that this team is from Canada’s–and arguably the world’s–most multicultural city. Love or hate Toronto, you’d be foolhardy to suggest that this could happen with a team from Winnipeg, Vancouver or even Montreal. The Six, including all the towns and communities that surround the core, have created as colourful a fanbase as any sport. Whenever I go to a game, I’m amazed and awed by the diversity and inclusion. It’s a festival of joy and a celebration that is infectious.

3. Which brings me to the final reason: Branding!

OK. Maybe I’m a little biased. But all you have to do is go back a few years to 2013 when MLSE launched this #WeTheNorth ad.

It’s likely no coincidence that the sellouts started soon after and the team was adopted by the nation. And of course, if the Raptors are Canada’s first family, we have not even talked about the first son, Kawhi Leonard. But I believe that Kawhi could only happen in Canada, in Toronto, and by the Raptors. Sure, Kobe and LeBron have been idolized before him. This is different. This is a love affair that wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but has now entered our collective souls. Even if for some reason Kawhi does leave at the end of the season–and it would be only for a personal reason that we may never know for sure–he has given us such great joy and great pride that he will forever be ‘King of the North’.


Mark Gascoigne is the Director and CEO of Trampoline. Get in touch at [email protected]