At one point, there was a real chance they were going to be the Beavers. But first, let’s back up… all the way to 1946, when the Toronto Huskies played their first and last season of NBA basketball. After that disastrous year, the franchise closed down; it would be almost half a century before the league returned north of the border.
In 1995, Toronto was awarded a franchise due in large part to the location of the SkyDome, where the team’s games would take place until the Air Canada Centre opened in 1999. The SkyDome is on the subway line, so fans are able to get to and from the games without battling harsh winter conditions like sub-zero wind chills and multiple feet of snow.
They had a team; now they needed a name. A nationwide “Name Game” contest was held, with a top-ten list including Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. On May 15, 1995, the new squad’s identity was revealed: the Toronto Raptors (thanks, Jurassic Park!). The next month, an expansion draft was held between the Raptors and the newly created Vancouver Grizzlies. The two teams alternated picking one player from the existing NBA teams, as well as from the college draft.
Expansion teams typically have it tough, and the Raptors were no exception: in their first three seasons, their best record was only 30-52. But in 1998, their luck changed when they acquired Vince Carter from the Golden State Warriors. “Vinsanity” lived up to his nickname, dazzling fans with his dunks and earning Rookie of the Year honors. After that, Carter promised to take the team to the post-season the following year. And he did, again and again: the Raptors made the playoffs every year through 2002, including a famed match-up in 2001 against the Philadelphia 76ers, which turned into a scoring showdown between Carter and MVP Allen Iverson. Ultimately, the Raptors were eliminated in the heartbreaking final seconds of game 7.
After the reign of King Carter, the Raptors suffered through a few rebuilding years until a new powerhouse emerged in the form of Chris Bosh. They returned to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, but with injures to Bosh and his subsequent trade to Miami, the Raptors entered a playoff drought until 2014, when they clinched a spot after besting the Boston Celtics in a 105-103 nail-biter.
Despite the Raptors’ rough road to what looks like a bright future, their tenacious fans have stuck by the squad, packing the stands and going all out with noise-makers, flags and painted faces. Part of the reason for their relentless enthusiasm must be the high-energy atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre, where DJ 4KORNERS spins sweet beats and the Raptors Dance Pak brings serious style to the sidelines.
And the Raptors never forget: as a rad retro nod to their heritage, they’ve even rocked Toronto Huskies jerseys on some of their Throwback Nights.