I hate my friend.

Later this afternoon, I’ll hop in a van with four other guys and begin the 15-hour drive to Charleston, South Carolina for my friend’s wedding. The wedding is on Friday evening, and we’re leaving to drive back mid-day Saturday.

What this means is that I’ll be missing tonight’s Game 5, Friday’s Game 6 and possibly Sunday’s Game 7 (though hopefully not).

Like I said, I hate my friend.

It’s not his fault. Obviously, weddings are planned far in advance. And while he’s a big Raptors fan, it’s not as if a year or so ago many expected there would be massive playoff games for the team in early May. Also, if he had cited that as a reason to push the wedding, it probably would have been called off.

It’s kind of our fault, anyway, for driving down. We could have flown down, grabbing a late Wednesday flight (there are early Thursday obligations for those of us in the wedding party) and flown back Saturday. Unfortunately, blogging doesn’t pay the bills all that well and, as such, money is a major factor. Five guys splitting the cost of gas is far cheaper than five guys each flying down.

Anyway, this sucks. I won’t be watching the games live, and because I’m a Canadian in the United States and Rogers is Satan incarnate, I won’t even be able to keep up, less I pay millions in data roaming. And again, blogging doesn’t pay well. Instead, I’ll torrent the games as quickly as I can on hotel WiFi and sneak away for 90 minutes or so Thursday and Saturday to watch. I’ll still enjoy the games, and I’ll still feel the drama and take the notes I always take, but it won’t be the same.

One of the best parts of the playoffs so far is that, more than any regular season game, it’s felt like no matter where I was watching, I was watching with a huge group. Maple Leaf Square/Jurassic Park has been crazy, but it doesn’t just end there – Game 4 did better television ratings than any NHL playoff game last week and the series is averaging nearly 10 times the unique viewers the team got in the regular season. The Raptors also unofficially rank as the number one team discussed on social media so far, per some graph I saw but can no longer seem to find (I swear it existed).

Basically, the city is engaged around the Raptors right now, and it’s awesome.

I’m sure some lament the presence of bandwagon fans (No New Friends and all), only hopping on because the team’s doing well or the Leafs are out. You know what I say to that? Welcome. More fans is never going to hurt, and the effect is at least two-fold: the players are impressed with the fanbase (and hey, even if this basketball outpost isn’t necessarily the most desirable landing spot, players will appreciate a rabid fanbase), and this has to be sending a message to MLSE and Canadian broadcasters that basketball can fill a bigger part of this country’s sports consciousness. Maybe it’s a flash in the pan, maybe it’s just some really strong, well-timed marketing, but maybe it’s also the first major step in the Raptors, and basketball in general, carving out a bigger role here.

So tonight and Friday, I won’t just be missing the games. That part sucks, for sure. But I’m also going to miss the experience of watching the game with an ever-expanding group of peers. For Game 1, I was live as a fan and it was one of the very best atmosphere’s I’ve ever been apart of. For Game 2, I was live as media, breaking the “no cheering in the press box” rule. For Game 3, I was covering for work and engaged on social media. For Game 4, I basically watched the game along with Raptors twitter, a group that’s grown exponentially over the past month.

For Game 5, I’ll be in a car, missing out on the game and the event. I’ll still see the game eventually, but it won’t really be the same. Ditto for Game 6. For the first time that I can remember, it won’t just suck to miss it because “I hate missing games,” it will suck because I’m left out, not being able to experience the game with this awesome group of Raptors hardcores that’s emerging.

But hey, I’ll probably be back for Game 7. And there’s always the second round.