Do you ever see something and just wonder if you need your eyes checked like Patrick Ewing in a Seattle SuperSonics jersey, Scottie Pippen playing for the Houston Rockets, or Hakeem Olajuwon suiting up for the Toronto Raptors? Well, those things really happened. Speaking of the Toronto franchise, does the team Toronto Huskies sound familiar?
In 1993, Toronto was granted an NBA franchise. The team was initially going to be called the Toronto Huskies. This is also the same name as the city’s first professional basketball team, which played in the Basketball Association of America during the 1946-1947 season. This league predates the NBA. The team management decided to drop the Huskies branding since the logo would inevitably look too similar to an existing team, the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Management decided to get fans involved and so they initiated a naming contest. More than 2,000 entries were submitted. In the end, there were 10 that had real shots of being used. One suggested name was the Toronto Hogs. While Drake is trying to normalize calling Toronto the Six, one of the city’s monikers is Hogtown, allegedly due to the number of hogs outnumbering people.
At the time, the hype for the movie Jurassic Park was undeniable and so the Toronto Raptors were born. Toronto fans bought into the dinosaur branding and in 2014, the area surrounding the arena was designated as “Jurassic Park.” The atmosphere in this “Park” is something else. Droves of fans would congregate and cheer for the team. Overall, it has a festive and friendly feel to it.
Like most expansion teams in any sport, the Raptors had struggles. However, the team’s growth in terms of popularity and winning was expedited with the emergence of Vince Carter. In just the second season of Half Man, Half Amazing, the Raptors made the playoffs. This was just the team’s fifth year in existence. Carter would lead Toronto to two more playoff runs. Carter and the Raptors did not have the best ending and, eventually, he had to be traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2004. This would end up being one the most one-sided trades in NBA history. Unfortunately, Toronto’s “haul” did not amount to much.
The Raptors’ next star would be big man Chris Bosh, who was selected in the legendary 2003 draft that had the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony. For most of his tenure with the Raptors, Bosh was an All-Star. He led the team to two postseason appearances, although both resulted in first-round exits. Bosh would depart in free agency for the Miami Heat in 2010 to join up with James and Wade. Much like Carter, Bosh holds team records to this day—the franchise’s leader in rebounds and blocks.
Toronto’s next playoff appearance occurred in the 2013-14 season. This iteration of the Raptors was led by the Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan backcourt. These two would be the face of the franchise and they were loved by fans. The Raptors also had solid pieces around the team. This would mark the start of the playoffs being a regular achievement for Toronto. At one point, they even topped the Eastern Conference with a 59-23 record. The result of most of these playoff runs would be the same—heartbreaking losses to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Things changed for the Raptors when James decided to head out west for the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri made the tough choice of trading DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. At the time, Leonard was perceived as potentially damaged goods due to his injury, and there was the possibility that he would be a one-year rental, with his contract expiring.
For some Toronto fans, this was a bitter pill to swallow, but this would end up being the most important trade in the team’s relatively young history. Leonard had a dominant postseason run and with a complete roster that had Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors won it all in the 2018-19 season. Who would have thought that a country with seven professional hockey teams would win basketball’s most coveted trophy?
After a year, Leonard would end up also leaving for the west but for the Los Angeles Clippers. Ibaka and Gasol went out the door eventually. Despite these departures, Toronto is not in rebuilding mode. They made the playoffs last year and still have veteran guard Lowry. The Raptors have a promising, young core with Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby. With these players and one of the better front offices, the future should be bright for Toronto.