The 2018-19 NBA season ended this past Thursday with my hometown Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever NBA Championship. I will admit that I’m mostly a fairweather NBA fan. I don’t watch very many games, but I keep an eye on the Raptors, and have even made my way to the ACC for a few games. I generally jump on the Raptors bandwagon when they hit the playoffs, and this year is no exception.
I remember watching Vince Carter miss the buzzer-beater in game seven of the Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia in 2001 so I understand the multi-level significance of Kawhi Leonard making the buzzer-beater in game seven of the Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia this year.
So congratulations to the Raptors. I’m thrilled that they were able to win it all, and I’m happy for my city. But during the Finals I tried to relate the whole Finals experience to the NLL and it kind of made me sad.
I summed up why in this tweet:
It’s awesome how even the non-basketball fans in Toronto are behind the Raptors. Just like 2015 when the Rock were in the NLL finals and everybody including the non-lacrosse fans were watching and talking about it and blowing up social media and oh wait that never happened
— Graeme Perrow (@GraemePerrow) June 8, 2019
Since I started watching the NLL in 2001, the Rock have won four Championships and appeared in three more. How did the city of Toronto react? Other than the die-hard Rock fans, the city reacted with unmitigated indifference. I believe Toronto mayor John Tory did the standard mayor thing in 2015, a bet with the mayor of Saskatoon. I imagine Tory ended up wearing a Rush jersey to a city council meeting or something. It’s possible the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays, Toronto FC, and Argonauts (or at least a couple of those) posted something to their social media wishing the Rock luck.
That’s probably it.
Did local businesses post “Go Rock Go” on their electronic signs, like the “Go Raptors Go” signs I’ve seen all over southern Ontario recently? Nope. Were the sports radio stations talking lacrosse at all, other than “Apparently there’s a lacrosse team in Toronto and they’re in the Championships. Moving on to hockey…”? Nope. Did people strike up conversations about the Rock with strangers while standing in the line at the grocery store? Nope. Were people who think a good swim move is the front crawl* buying lacrosse t-shirts and hats? Nope.
Is any of this even remotely surprising? Nope.
None of this happened when the Rock were in the NLL Championships in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2010, 2011, or 2015, but that’s not what made me sad. I’ve loved watching the city go Raptor-crazy over the last few weeks and I wondered if it would ever happen for the Rock. I know it wouldn’t be to this extent – it wasn’t even to this extent when the Argonauts won the Grey Cup in 2017 – but could it be anywhere close? Could the league or the team do enough over the next two / five / ten years to get those who aren’t lacrosse die-hards excited about an NLL Championship?
What made me sad is realizing that I believe the answer is no.
I’ll expand on that tomorrow.
* – Or as I saw on a basketball tweet: “people who wouldn’t know a pick-and-roll from a Tootsie roll”