"I had no idea Dan Aykroyd was in this blog post!"
Well, that's because he isn't. This post isn't about dynamite sketch comedians, it's about basketball, something that I watch often and play occasionally. More specifically, it's about the Toronto Raptors (although if I’m feeling nostalgic it may also feature some post-game analysis of the epic Toon Squad/Monstars match up from November 1996). I love the Raptors so much that it's pathetic: whenever I see a video of a crazy sports fan going nuts on YouTube, I think "Wow, this makes me feel a lot better about myself," before I ultimately rethink it and wonder, "Holy shit, is this how I get?"
I often wonder how I am still friends with some people that have seen first hand just how emotionally invested I can be in a game. I think the peak of my absurd Raptors fandom came in my first year of university, which was unfortunately also one of the worst years in franchise history. The Raps had a record of 27 wins and 55 losses, allowed multiple teams to come back and win when they had been up by 20 points or more*, and players earning big minutes included Mike James, Loren Woods and Rafael Araujo. But, the games were normally close, so I kept watching. I remember seeing a stat at one point in the season saying that over 20 of their games were won or lost in the final minute (normally the latter because of Mike James, but occasionally the former because of Mike James). I also recall literally falling off the couch of my residence living room once when MoPete missed a potential game-tying three pointer, and my roommate who I didn't know well at the time was in the room with me… how she remains friends with me is baffling.
The lowest moment of my career as a Raps fan came during another season on a night when a girl I was seeing broke up with me, and then I waited up to catch the 3 a.m. replay of the game I missed because of going to see her earlier in the evening. Of course, all that waiting was for a game where I would eventually get to see the Raps blown out by 30 points. Sadly, the event that hurt me more that night was watching the Raptors get outplayed, and when I think back to that night, I remember far more about the game than I remember about my conversation with this girl. That was my worst moment of being a Raptors fan, but all is instantly forgiven when they give me the feeling of pure joy that comes from a satisfying win. Like yesterday.
My uncle does pretty well for himself, and he scored me one of his company's corporate tickets for the Raptors' home game against the Houston Rockets. I knew these would be better seats than the yellow and green seats of the Sprite Zone that I was accustomed to, but I had no idea just how good they were going to be. When I was going into the Air Canada Centre, the ticket ushers kept telling me that my seat was further down… code for "closer to the court." I wish I could have seen my own face, because I know my smile was getting progressively wider as my altitude decreased.
I got to my seat. I was three rows up from the court. You know where the announcers sit? I was mere feet behind them. I could have thrown my Coke at Matt Devlin, but I didn't want to get kicked out. The point is this: I was no further than ten feet from the court, and I can't remember the last time I was that happy. To be honest, I didn't know that it was possible to be this happy past the age of 10... It was like when I got a Super Nintendo as a kid. Nothing else around me mattered. Had Zooey Deschanel been sitting next to me naked, I may not have noticed**.
Given that I probably won’t ever have the opportunity to be this close to the NBA again, I decided early on in the game that I was going to focus on watching a couple of players I love: the Raptors' Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack, as well as the Rockets' Shane Battier. I figured my proximity to the court would allow me to see and hear plenty of things that you can’t pick up on TV, and I was correct.
I love good defensive basketball (which makes my Raptors fandom even more odd, for they are perennially awful on D), and Shane Battier is one of the best defenders in the league. If you need any proof of this, just check out some highlights of his defense on Kobe Bryant in last year's Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers won the series, but Battier helped to make it much more difficult than anybody expected. Watching him defend the Raptors' Hedo Turkgolu yesterday was impressive. While Turk did have a good game, most of his points came when Battier was either on the bench or defending another player. Battier’s intensity was impressive, and his footwork was crazy… I wish he were a Raptor.
Chris Bosh is hands-down my favourite player in the NBA, as well as the best power forward in the NBA. I don’t consider the latter to be a debatable statement: it’s a truth. This season he has been playing with more passion and intensity than in years previous, and he is also averaging a pretty impressive 24 points and 12 rebounds. He is a really fun player to watch too, something I don’t normally say about a big (I prefer guards, as anybody who grew up in the Jordan era does). Anybody that says tall people are only good because of their size is an idiot, and these idiots have clearly never seen Bosh play. Hearing him call out plays and anchor the defense (he is an oddity on the Raps as he can actually play some pretty decent D) was fascinating, as was watching him play dominant basketball on the offensive end. He is a free agent at the end of the year, and he won’t be coming back to the Raptors due to their lack of being good at basketball, so if you live in Toronto and haven’t seen him play live yet, you had best get on it.
My favourite position to watch (and play) is point guard. Watching a great point guard see the floor and carve through the defense is something to see, and Jarrett Jack put on a great show yesterday. He is far from a premier point guard, but he plays like I wish every Raptor would. He plays hard, he doesn’t make bad decisions often, he plays good defense, and he isn’t a whiny punk bitch (I’m looking at you, Bellinelli). When the Rockets’ Trevor Ariza threw an elbow at the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan in the third quarter, Jack was the only Raptor to step to Ariza. I want all of the Raptors to consistently play hard and with intensity, but sadly only Jack and Bosh do.
I got to experience my favourite sport in a new way yesterday. I could hear everything coach Jay Triano was calling out to his players, I could hear players arguing with the ref, and I could see Antione Wright chirping Patrick O’Bryant for watching the cheerleaders during a timeout. And to top it all off, the Raptors played near-perfect ball and got the win.
I’m not a crier, and I never really have been. I used to joke that I would cry if the Raptors ever won a championship, but now I don’t know if I’ll be joking next time I say it. Professional sports are kind of a weird thing to be really into, but I guess movies are too. For all of the stress I have experienced being a Raptors fan, the good moments make it all worthwhile. I guess professional sports are more like movies than I thought when I started writing this… some games are suspenseful and gut wrenching in a way that few action movies ever are, and others are far more depressing than any movie I’ve seen. And some movies, like yesterday’s game, aren’t filled with tension but are just completely satisfying from beginning to end. I watch movies because they engage me emotionally more than most of what happens in my own life, and I guess you can apply that same thinking to the Raptors too.
I concede that liking a sports team as much as I do is bizarre, but then again, I’m a weird guy. But if being as happy as I was yesterday makes me weird, then so be it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on my Bosh jersey and yell at my TV for a couple of hours.
*including Kobe Bryant's 81 point game and a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Dallas Mavericks where I left for work at 3pm with the Raps up 25 or so points in the third. By the time I got to work at 4pm, I had a text message from my roommate saying that the Mavericks had won the game. Fucking Nowitzki.
**I would have noticed.