Well. That was embarrassing.
Like me, you’re probably reeling a little bit from last night’s loss – both losses so far, honestly. No matter how cynical a Raptor fan you were during the second-half swoon, I don’t think anyone was prepared for consecutive soul-sucking losses on home court. Now, with the Raptors facing the daunting task of winning four of five games in order to take the series, with three on the road, you may, like me, find yourself slipping into “I can’t wait for this season to be over” mode.
Well, I’m here to tell you: don’t. Not just yet.
Being a sports fan, unfortunately, can suck sometimes. The same things that make it amazing: caring too much about people you’ve never met, analyzing and overanalyzing situations with no bearing on the real world, getting to gloat to your friends when things are going well; these are the same things that can make fandom so infuriatingly, irrationally frustrating. Think about this: the collective Raptors hivemind was SO frustrated about James Johnson not entering game one, we essentially forced our head coach’s hand last night, gave ourselves a standing ovation, and were quickly reminded that we aren’t as smart as we tend to believe we are.
In the moment, sure, look at that as a precursor to an ugly blowout – a game that showed the Raptors’ many fatal flaws in high definition, and one that very likely spelled the death knell on what has been a memorable season in all kinds of ways. In the grand scheme, though, look at it a different way: we collectively cared so much about the 10th man on our team that we willed him into a game. How many fan bases can do that?
It’s moments like that that bring the bigger picture into clearer view, here. Sure, we can be frustrated by Lowry, and Casey, and Lou Williams, and Greivis and Jonas and God knows who else, but we don’t cheer collectively for individuals. We cheer collectively for the Raptors. And the Raptors are still playing this season, and I’ll be as optimistic as I can be until the inevitable, bitter end, dammit, because that’s what we do. Care way too much.
In recent years, we’ve seen the negative effects of this on another local sports franchise: the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose fans care so much (and so loudly) that they’ve developed a reputation as a difficult place to play. To say it hasn’t negatively impacted their ability to attract marquee players would be naive, and I’m acutely worried that the same thing is happening with the Raptors: as soon as the team acquired a taste of success, the expectations grew, and the fan base (myself included), inevitably, began to turn. I’m not saying their isn’t room for cynicism, or criticism (I mean, you’re on Raptors Republic right now), but there’s room for a bit of blind faith, too.
Sometimes, it even gets rewarded. I’m a Canucks fan, too, and during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals run, I remember going up 3-0 to the Blackhawks in the first round, feeling like everything was sealed, and then losing three not-so-close games in a row after that. After game 6, I remember being so mad at the inevitable collapse in front of me that I set NHL 11 to the easiest possible difficulty and just pounded the Blackhawks over and over. I was SO SURE that things were going to end in disappointment.
Then, the Canucks won. Sometimes, these things turn around. Sometimes, they even turn around twice in a series. You never know what could happen, and it’s foolish to pretend like we do.
That being said, in all likelihood, we’re staring at a first-round playoff exit, here. There haven’t been many bright spots in the first two games, and I don’t think anyone in Raptorland would be shocked if the team went quietly into that good night in Washington, and we all got to spend a few days mourning and then a couple months hoping Casey gets the boot and Sam Dekker somehow falls to us in the draft.
But that’s what I’m saying, here. That part will be there, no matter the result. And no matter how cynical, critical, or exasperated you get, don’t tune out, and don’t stop cheering. Our best asset isn’t Kyle Lowry, or Jonas, or DeMar, or Masai. It’s #WeTheNorth.