+Toronto Raptors and I have to say I'm really impressed with them lately. I've been a fan since they became an expansion team over twenty years ago. I may seem like an unlikely candidate when it comes to being a fan of a team sport, but I have very good reasons for my love of this team.
The absolute best thing is that heart-pounding moment when you watch someone sink a three-point basket at the most needed time. Often it's a buzzer-beater that wins the game, or even a shot that sends the signal there's no way the other team is going to win now. It's a sudden intake of breath, and then an involuntary yell to release the happiness that cannot be contained. Obviously, you have to have a loyalty to the team sinking the three in order to feel this way, but believe me when I say it can be an emotionally charged moment if you do. I've seen games where those buzzer-beaters have won the game, and it has actually brought a tear to my eye because it was such a beautiful thing to watch. You can see the relief and happiness on the faces of your team's players.
One benefit to watching basketball over other sports is the almost complete lack of violence. Don't get me wrong; I like watching boxing and MMA every once in a while. However, those sports are specifically about fighting. There's no other point to them, and we enjoy them based on that. With many team sports, though, you get fighting that was never intended to be a part of game play. Hockey comes immediately to mind. I used to watch the games back when the Edmonton Oilers were winning the Stanley Cup with some regularity, but I lost interest when the joke, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out," became a reality. Players were getting charged with assault, and I was left wondering why it took so long for that to happen. I would never be able to sit still long enough to watch a baseball game, and football is a broken neck waiting to happen. It's not something I'm even tempted to watch.
Something I'm seeing a lot of with my team lately is some amazing ball-handling, and the lack of selfishness with constant passing. It gives me such a good feeling to watch a team really play a game together. +Demar Derozan has been called the 'go-to guy' for the team, yet he keeps passing to everyone else, not just giving them an opportunity to be a part of the play, but also giving the team a real shot at winning a game. They don't play like they're thinking of their own stats. They're playing together. It's hard for me to explain why that affects me so much, but it's heart-warming all the same.
Aside from action on the court, though, the Raptors are involved in a lot of things in the community. Day before yesterday they visited Toronto Sick Kids to hang out with the 300-plus patients there, handing out gifts and just giving their time and attention to some kids who really need a boost. They're involved in the community in ways that other teams are following. They were the first NBA team to honour the work of military personnel, in fact. Every year they have a Canadian Forces Night, and they wear their camouflage uniforms. They honour the forces with special programming where they meet and greet the Canadian Forces personnel who attend the game, along with other activities. Sales of the camouflage jerseys have raised a lot of money for the Military Families Fund, and there are additional percentages donated to other military programs.
After so much time having to listen to the cackles of people who thought of the Raptors as nothing but a joke, and hearing comments like, "The Raptors are still a team?" I have to say it's beautiful to see them where they are today. They're currently third in the Eastern Conference, behind Indiana and Miami, and are firmly lodged at the top of the Atlantic Division. Imagine the satisfaction for a loyal fan, seeing the amazing possibilities ahead for the team. We're looking at a play-off appearance this year. Some of the stats for the players in comparison to other league players are inspirational too. They've got the highest three-point percentage in the Eastern Conference since January 1st, and I truly believe their stats are going to stick.
You see, they started this year a lot like they were playing last year, and I admit it was a scary thing to see. They would start a game strong, and then lose by just a few points. Constantly they were just nudged out of a win, and I thought they were going to let it drag them down, but they never gave up. They're showing that attitude in-game, as well. Even when things look terrible for them, they scratch and claw their way back up. It's been amazing to watch that spirit when they play.
I have my favourite commentators, and since I watch online I have my choice of broadcasts. I prefer sawlive, as they have the Raptors commentators I know and love. I miss Chuck Swirsky, but we've still got +Leo Rautins, Jack Armstrong, Matt Devlin, and Rod Black. Familiar voices, all, and comforting in their continuity. When I used to watch on TV, they were the guys I listened to. Thankfully internet technology means I don't have to pay for a cable subscription anymore. It used to cost me a fortune to be able to watch the games, but the online broadcasts make TV obsolete.
Between Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozen, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons, I'm simply blown away by the dignity and performance I'm seeing. I'm probably missing a few players that have impressed me, since the whole team has been impressive. Sadly, Tyler Hansbrough has been out with an injury for about eight games now, but when he was playing he certainly brought something to the team.
There's something really special about watching a sport that seems so purely about the game itself. There have been rare incidents, such as Ron Artest running up into the stands to go after a fan who was throwing things at the players, but they're so few and far between as to become legends when they happen. There's even a lyric in a rap song that references the incident with Ron Artest (who has legally changed his name to Metta World Peace, by the way).
I'm not what anyone would call a fanatic when it comes to basketball. I can't generally list stats, I don't memorize the players from other teams, and I don't usually know the standings of any team but the Raptors. Still, it's hugely rewarding after a long haul of hard times, to watch your team break out and start doing some damage. I don't know about y'all, but I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy right now.