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City of Immigrants Sees Itself in NBA’s Toronto Raptors


Toronto Raptors fans cheer the team before a playoff game, Monday, May 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Toronto Raptors fans cheer the team before a playoff game, Monday, May 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)


Are you following the National Basketball Association playoffs?

Only four teams are still playing for the NBA championship.

One of them is the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are the only NBA team in Canada.

Of the 15 players on the team, six were not born in the United States. The team has one Canadian, two Brazilians, an Argentine, a Lithuanian and a player from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Its general manager is Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian. His job is to choose the players and negotiate their deals to play for the team.

The Raptors entered the NBA as an expansion team in 1995. This is their 21st season. In the early years, the Raptors normally stopped playing at the end of the NBA’s 82-game regular season. But this is the eighth time the team has earned the right to compete in the playoffs.

This is the first time the Raptors have reached the Eastern Conference Finals. To reach the NBA Finals, the team needs to win four games against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri watches his team play against Denver Nuggets during an NBA summer league basketball game on Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Las Vegas. Ujiri is from Nigeria.

Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri watches his team play against Denver Nuggets during an NBA summer league basketball game on Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Las Vegas. Ujiri is from Nigeria.

Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. So it seems natural that the Raptors have a mix of players from different areas. Recent studies have shown that about half of Toronto’s population was not born in Canada.

Toronto is one of the country’s major sports centers. The National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most valuable sports teams in North America. The Toronto Blue Jays are the only Canadian team in Major League Baseball.

The Raptors are the city’s newest sports team. The sports franchise is the same age as many of the young, foreign-born fans who follow the Raptors. Many people gather outside of the sports center where the team plays and enjoy watching the games on a big screen television.

Morgan Campbell writes about sports and business for The Toronto Star newspaper. He says the experience is important for people who may not have the money to see a Raptors’ game in person.

“They have a little pre-game entertainment and people will stand there and watch the game on this big screen, and they cheer as if they’re actually at the game. I personally have never done it. I don’t like crowds that much. But I know people that do it and they love it.”

Toronto Raptors' Cory Joseph (6) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love (0) during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals Thursday, May 19, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 108-89.

Toronto Raptors' Cory Joseph (6) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love (0) during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals Thursday, May 19, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 108-89.

The Star recently published an opinion piece on the Raptors. It said the team represents the best of Toronto. “The Raptors, in short, are the team of new Toronto, immigrant Toronto, emerging Toronto,” the story said. “The team of the city we dream of becoming, and on our best days, the city we like to think we already are.”

Campbell says one way the Raptors are unusual is the way in which local businesses seek out the players for endorsements. In many cities, star players appear in advertising for stores or car dealerships. But in Toronto, Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania stars in ads for a Middle Eastern restaurant called Paramount.

“This is one of these only-in-Toronto moments. I don’t know if you would have this anywhere else. Where the Lithuanian guy signs an endorsement deal with the Middle Eastern food restaurant. But again, it speaks to the multiculturalism of the city, and the way the team has been able to reach out to all these different ethnic communities.”

Campbell says Toronto has many of the same problems as other large North American cities: big differences between rich and poor people; racial profiling; and problems between minorities and police. So the Raptors are not yet a sign of the city as it is, but something that Toronto wants to be.

“When you talk about the team symbolizing something, yeah, it is a bit of an ideal. But all these things can coexist. Right? The city is multicultural. The team enjoys support from a more diverse and a younger group of fans than the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays do, but at the same time, to extrapolate that to the day-to-day life of the city? Is something different and it doesn’t quite fit.”

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Are you planning to root for the Toronto Raptors sometime in the future? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

root – v. to express or show support for (a person, a team, etc.)

diverse – adj. made up of people or things that are different from each other

original – adj. happening or existing first or at the beginning

franchise – n. a team that is a member of a professional sports league

emerging – adj. newly created or noticed and growing in strength or popularity : becoming widely known or established

endorse – v. to publicly say that you like or use (a product or service) in exchange for money

income inequality – n. the state of one group of people having more money or wealth than another group of people

racial profiling – v. to form an opinion about a person based on their skin color or ethnic background

symbolize – v. a one person or a small group standing for a larger group or idea

extrapolate – v. to form an opinion or to make an estimate about something from known facts

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