February 16, 2013.
It was a different time. The Get Lucky/Blurred Lines song of the summer battle was still months away. Both Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay were still in Raptor red. The Raps were losing (21-32, to be exact – and, as a bonus, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields led the team in points and rebounds respectively during the last game before the All-Star Break).
And a young, plucky, semi-disappointing first-round draft pick was about to bring the Raptors into the league-wide spotlight, if only for a night.
For me, the litmus test of the brevity of a sports moment is determined by a single, simple question: Can you remember where you were when you watched it?
On February 16th, I was in Victoria, BC, in a hotel room paid for by Squash Northwest Territories. I was there to coach my younger brother in the Pacific Northwest Championships (which, sibling shout-out alert, he ended up winning) – a thin excuse to see some family and get away from the rigours of graduate school for the weekend. That night, he was out doing whatever it is 17-year olds do these days, and so there I was, sitting alone, drinking overpriced hotel room beers, and watching All-Star Saturday night.
It’s a bit embarrassing to admit how badly I was hoping Terrence Ross would win the dunk contest. As Raptor fans, we’d all seen him throw down some violent finishes during the season – a few of which were absolutely Griffin-esque in the ease and speed with which he was able to get above the rim. The nerves weren’t there because I wasn’t sure if he was capable.
They were there because I desperately wanted something – anything – to stand as a landmark for what was already a lost season. Raptor fans needed something to cheer for. They needed to feel bigger, better, on top of the league, for just one moment. And hell, if that moment was going to come in the marquee event of what is essentially a meaningless weekend, well, we’ll take what we can get.
The names of the competitors in the contest last year paled to the plethora of All-Stars that have stepped up in 2014. Ross. Faried. Bledsoe. White. Evans. Green. Not exactly a dream lineup, but a group of excellent dunkers. We knew it would be a struggle, but, again, we’re Raptor fans. We’re used to struggle.
And we really needed this.
The contest began. Guys began dropping. And, a few minutes later, we were down to two – Terrence Ross and Jeremy Evans, the prior year’s champion and someone who’s career will likely be highlighted by that trophy. At the time, we were all aware of the acute possibility that that could be Terrence Ross’ fate. We know better now, of course, on the heels of what has been a supremely promising sophomore campaign (and, of course, that otherworldly 51 point game).
I, for one, didn’t care. I just wanted a win.
And, thank god, we got one. The video of all the dunks is at the bottom of the article, so I won’t go into long descriptions, but the Carter jersey! The 360 windmill off the side of the backboard! The between the legs over the Twitter kid! The Drake cameo (we later found out he took his chains back right away, which adds another level of hilarity to the proceedings)!
Add it all up, and a simple fan vote later, we were champions. I’m sure I’m not the only person who can remember that Ross won with 58 per cent of the fan vote without looking it up. When you’re being fed the same, bland meal every night, a well-cooked cheeseburger can taste like the greatest meal that’s ever been made. Sure, it wasn’t the biggest peak, but it was a peak – something that I don’t kno wif any Raptor fan expected last year.
Instead of looking for silver linings in losses, and rooting for development, we were winners.
This year, of course, things are different. The franchise has experienced plenty of peaks since then – the Ujiri hiring, the surge post-Gay trade, the deserved selection of DeMar to the big game Sunday night, the aforementioned 51-point game. A potential division title, and playoffs – PLAYOFFS!!! – are on the horizon. There’s no way, unless Ross does 720 backflip dunks Justin Bieber into Rob Ford’s gaping maw, that this is going to be the peak of our season, and that’s unquestionably a good thing for the franchise and the fans. All-Star Saturday night should be a fun distraction, nothing more, nothing less.
But for Raptor fans, it should serve as a reminder not to take what we’ve got right now for granted. Remember, 12 months ago, this was the highlight of a lot of (Probably shouldn’t say everyone’s – I’m already going to get flayed in the comments for this whole train of thought, I bet) Raptor fans’ seasons.
So Terrence Ross’ return to defend his title means a whole lot of things. It’s a sobering reminder of where we were, while at the same time being a good indicator of where we are. It’s a homecoming for a budding young talent who’s established himself since making his name on the same stage. It’s still an underdog story – it’s going to be tough for Trey Rosay to out fan-vote the three All-Stars in the contest, even if he’s the best dunker.
But, most of all, it doesn’t mean as much for us, the players, or the franchise. I bet that down the road, I’m not going to remember where I was for dunk contest: 2014. And I’m thankful for that.
(That said, kick some ass, Terrence. Kick. Some. Ass.)