HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAPTORS!
On November 3, 1995, the Raps played their very first game. It was the beginning of a franchise, of an era, that would sweep the country and bring fans together for the next 25 years.
Prior to our beloved Raptors, there had been a professional basketball team who called Toronto home. For the 1946-47 season, the Toronto Huskies were the ones hitting the boards. In fact, it was the Huskies who played the very first pro basketball game on Canadian soil when they faced the New York Knicks on November 1, 1946. They played in the Basketball Association of America, which would later become the NBA.
Unfortunately, the Huskies faced a series of obstacles that seriously hindered their success. Their home opener came not to long after the league itself was founded, and management had a small window to work with and fill their roster. The resulting lineup wasn’t exactly the best of the best, unfortunately. On top of this, basketball wasn’t a well-known sport in Canada to begin with. In fact, one story says that when the Knicks reached the Canadian border on their way to the big game, a customs official reportedly looked at them and said, “What are you?” The official then said he’d heard of the NHL’s Rangers, but not the Knicks. “Are you anything like that?” he asked. Yikes.
Toronto already had a hockey team and a football team (the Argonauts of the CFL). Fans weren’t quite ready for another team, nor was the media. And speaking of media, basketball wasn’t broadcast on television until 1953, so only those who had the cash to go to the games themselves could really support the team.
All of this added up and the Huskies folded at the end of the 1946-47 season.
Then came the Raptors in 1995.
Their first game was against the New Jersey nets and played at the Toronto SkyDome as the Rap’s home arena hadn’t yet been built. The first points were scored by Toronto’s Alvin Robertson when he shot a three-pointer, revving up the Raps to eventually win the game with an impressive 94-79.
During that inaugural season, the Raps ended up with a dismal 21-61 record and ranked near the bottom of the league for offensive and defensive ratings. However, they did have an incredible win against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls on March 24, 1996. MJ threw a desperate last shot to win the game, but the ball left his hand after the buzzer had gone, so the basket didn’t count. The Raps were victorious with a 109-108 finish.
Although they weren’t particularly successful with their game stats, the Raptors had the third-best fan attendance in the league for that season, behind only the Charlotte Hornets and the Chicago Bulls.
Another plus for the team that first year was their crazy merch sales. This probably didn’t come as a surprise to anyone since $20 million of Raptors gear was sold in the first month after the expansion was announced in 1993, long before the team ever hit the court! In 1994, the iconic dino logo was so popular that the Raptors came in 7th for league merchandising that year! Sales continued to grow throughout the 1995-96 season. Despite the numbers, though, it wasn’t until after the Raps’ Championship win in 2019, that they were listed as number 4 in the top 10 NBA team merchandise sales.
If we look at the Raptors now versus that first year, it’s amazing to see how much they’ve progressed.
The Toronto Raptors’ first-ever professional basketball game was against the New York Knicks and the Raps won 94-79. Their leading scorer that night was Alvin Robertson with 30 points. At the start of the 2019-20 season, the Raps played the Pelicans for their first game and were victorious with a 130-122 finish. Fred Van Vleet was the leader that night with his career-high of 34 points.
In 2020, both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam represented Toronto as part of the All Star team. Back in 1996, though, nobody from the 6 made the All Stars. They did, however, send Damon Stoudamire to the Rookie All Star team and was named game MVP! He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1996 as well, and still holds the record as the shortest player (5’10”) to win this, as well as being the second-lowest draft pick to take home the award. Although we don’t have a Rookie All Star game anymore, we do have a Rising Stars Challenge, but none of the Raps were on that team this year.
The coach for the Raps’ in 1995-96 was Brendan Malone and he coached for that one season alone. Our beloved Nick Nurse has been the head coach for two seasons now, and this is after holding his own as an assistant coach for five seasons. And, of course, he was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the league’s 2018-19 season.
At the end of the season in 1996, the team ended with a 21-61 win-loss record. At the end of this year’s weird 2020 season, the Raps had a 53-19 record. They certainly didn’t make the playoffs in 1996, but this year they came second in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
The highest scorer of the 1995-96 season was Damon Stoudamire with 1331 points. This past season, it was Pascal Siakam with those honours and 1371 points.
These are just a few ways that things have changed for Toronto basketball over the last 25 years – and then some! From the virtually unknown Huskies in 1946, to the little baby Raptors in 1995, to the NBA champions in 2019… and then this crazy 2019-20 season… the Raps have come a long way, baby.
And we love them more than ever!
For more thoughts and opinions from Melanie, check out her author page.