Alright, humor me for a minute while I half-talk out of my ass.
I'm not a big conspiracy guy. But entering Round 1 I think a lot of us were terrified of facing Brooklyn. Not because of their team (old and over paid) or their coaching (LOL).
The dilemma was that Brooklyn had three future Hall of Famers on it, multiple All-Stars past and present, and most importantly, was based in a large media market.
From purely a marketing standpoint, the second round storyline of Brooklyn was an easy one to write. Veteran Hall of Famers square off against Defending Champion Lebron MotherFucking James! The league's marketing team must have been salivating over their keyboards as the playoffs approached.
With so many household names on their roster, we knew the Nets were going to get their calls. And if there was ever an incentive for the league and the refs to turn a blind eye to Garnett's moving screens and pointy elbows, this was it.
That's not to say that the game is secretly rigged or the officials are crooked. But I definitely think, no matter how objective officials try to be, they are going to be biased towards the team that — on paper and in the media — is supposed to win.
Call it confirmation bias; call it self-fulfilling prophecy. If we think an outcome is going to go a certain way, we tend to do all the little things to make that outcome happen. Brooklyn has famous players, full of winners. In a city famous for winners. Coached by a winner. And from a purely economic standpoint, Lebron in the Big Apple sounds a lot more 'winning' than Lebron in Toronto. Canada. Wherever that is.
But something funny happened during the first round that the league and US media wasn't expecting. The Raptors made a conscious effort to flip the script.
And there's a chance, with our help, they'll actually succeed.
But what is that narrative, exactly? The Raptors are a contender? We the North? Well, sort of. The real argument that the Raptors have been making; the meta-narrative that is resonating and probably making the league office and US media do double-takes; the subtext that actually might be helping us get out of the first round, is this:
"Toronto — and Canada — is way a better market than you imagined. And Toronto versus Miami might be a more profitable series than Brooklyn versus Miami."
Now, step back and think about how radical and ridiculous a concept this is. If you suggested this before the start of Round 1, no advertiser or broadcaster would believe you. In what world does Lebron vs. DeRozan/Lowry draw more viewers that Lebron vs Garnett/Pierce/Kidd?
Well, this is where I think the Raptors organization deserves a lot of credit. They have made the proposition of a Toronto/Heat match-up more palatable in a number of ways.
THEY MADE IT US VERSUS THEM.
They leveraged Canada's compulsive underdog/forgotten stepbrother/passive-aggressive-Ned-Flanders complex and turned into in a polished, hash-tag-friendly, nationalistic sound bite. The fast-tracking of the We The North campaign (which I believe was slated to be rolled-out next year) was a smart play to insure that Raptor fans had a unified message that a) we would spam the shit out and b) they could track and promote to media outlets.
You can't sell Lebron vs. Demar. But you can sell Lebron verus a very loud, pissed-off country. They fed the Canadian fans a story they could get behind, and the US Media a story they could sell.
THEY PUT THE LEAGUE/MEDIA ON NOTICE.
Truer words never been spoken. Zarar may think it made us look immature and amateurish, but in retrospect it makes Masai — and Tim, who was standing right there smirking — look like goddamn geniuses.
With two words, Masai managed to turn a ho-hum first round series into a national news story covered by every major US and Canadian media outlet. It doesn't matter how great the Toronto fans are or how big the market potential is if the media is too busy not giving two shits to pay attention. He threw down the gauntlet, not just to the Nets, but to the all the North America news outlets. Ignore this series at your own risk. The fans here have been waiting 6 years for this. Shit is going to be bananas.
He got eyeballs on a playoff series that most media outlets were prepared to treat as an afterthought.
Amatuerish. Pffft. You're the amateur, thinks Masai.
SPEAKING OF FANS …
You fucking showed up. The Raptors probably don't deserve all the credit — the fans are doing the heavy lifting — but they managed to turn the Toronto fanbase into a news story in it's own right.
Thank you giant outdoor screen. Thank you BMO cam. Thank you Tim and Sid. I don't know if they're spiking the beer or giving away t-shirts or what but whatever additional crack the Raptors are dealing to whip the fans into a perpetual frenzy, it's working.
And when NBA/ABC/TNT/ESPN compares the highlight-worthy crowd at the Air Canada Center to the empty lower-bowl seats at the Barclay Center, I'm sure they're questioning their preconceptions. They're re-evaluating which series is actually going to be more compelling, dramatic and tv-friendly during the second round.
You remember how when they announced the Drake partnership, we were all like, "That guy?"
Well, that guy has been pimping Toronto, Canada, its fan base, and its market potential eight days a week since we qualified for the playoffs. And his appearances courtside have been getting the Raptors a lot of US airtime as well.
Like him or not, the dude is trend-setter. He reaches a younger, American demographic. He's like a walking internet meme generator, and I pretty sure he knows it.
So I guess I'll conclude my ramblings with a hypothesis.
I think that if Toronto's fan base were as passive and disengaged as the Brooklyn fan base, there is a strong chance that this series would have ended already.
It's not a conspiracy, but can you imagine Lowry or DeRozan getting the calls they were getting in games two or four, if half-awake fans like Rhianna were just yawning their way through plays? Can you imagine the refs giving DeRozan a charge if Toronto only-kind-of-sort-of cared about basketball?
No? Me neither.
My point is having a rabid fan base that cares matters — not just to the players, not just to the refs, but to the league.
Engaged fans sell the game to casual fans. They spend more money. They watch more games, which means they watch more ads. They create content about games which promotes the league even more. Having such a vocal and engaged fanbase not only gives us a serious home court advantage, but it makes our team's participation a lot more valuable to broadcasters, advertisers, and the playoffs.
So how can you help the Raptors? Keep cheering. Keep doing crazy shit. Tweet, post and pimp the hell out the Raptors. Break out the lint-rollers, make an ass out of yourself in the stands, and get on an ESPN highlight reel getting cock-blocked by some lady. Cut it somewhere between a clutch Lowry charge and a DeRozan circus shot.
My theory is the more engaged Toronto fans are, and the more viral and memetic our fan base is, the greater the league's desire to see us go as deep as possible into the playoffs. They won't be fixing games, but maybe more of those 50/50 calls start breaking our way, because our ascension will become more 'believable'. More 'natural'. More destined.
Just a hunch. Tweets can't magically repair Landry Fields elbow or restore T-Ross' swagger. But believe it our not someone at the NBA, ABC and TNT is measuring how engaged our viewership is. By being engaged, you're not only validating all the hardwork the players are putting in, you're increasing the team's value and playoff prospects.
So it was never as simple as proving we have a better team than Brooklyn. We have to prove our team is worth more than Brooklyn's in the playoffs. I think the Raptor's organization realized that early, and has made some nice strides towards turning that fairy tale into a reality.