It’s been exactly 20 years since we first saw Toronto Raptors basketball. It was on Nov. 3, 1995, that the Raptors tipped off for the first game in franchise history, the culmination of a long wait for basketball in Canada (the Vancouver Grizzlies would play their inaugural game that same night).
33,306 fans turned out to watch the Raptors host the New Jersey Nets at SkyDome, and the duty of introducing the world to the team fell on the capable shoulders of P.A. announcer Herbie Kuhn:
(Leo Rautins, Rod Black, and Herbie Kuhn. Some things never change.)
And what a lineup it was! Damon Stoudamire had been chosen as the first face of the franchise, flanked by Alvin Robertson, Ed Pinckney, Carlos Rogers, and Zan Tabak in the starting unit. Acie Earl, John Salley, and Tracy Murray provided the depth off the bench, and Oliver Miller and Doug Christie would eventually become key pieces of the freshman franchise.
The day belonged to Robertson, who not only scored the first points in Raptors history but also shot 11-of-14 on his way to 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and five steals. The good times would be short-lived, as the 33-year-old Robertson was out of the league after the season despite averaging 9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.2 steals.
The positive vibes would be similarly brief for Stoudamire and the Raptors. Mighty Mouse debuted with a 10-point, 10-assist double-double and would go on to win Rookie of the Year after averaging an unbelievable 19 points, four rebounds, and 9.3 assists, but he’d last just two-and-a-half seasons in Toronto before forcing his way from the Big Smoke to Rip City.
For one night, though, it was rainbows and unicorns for everybody. The Raptors won 94-79 despite getting massacred 56-37 on the glass, as a sloppy Nets outfit coughed the ball up 29 times and shot 33.3 percent from the floor. (The Raptors would return the favor on this date in 2013, losing to the Nets in their first game in Brooklyn.) They were 1-0, undefeated, off to a perfect start.
— J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) November 3, 2015
It was great for those involved in securing a franchise that the Raptors had a night to celebrate so early. The initial victory would be followed by seven consecutive losses, a 21-61 record, a four-year path to a playoff berth, and, depending on your outlook and memory, 20-plus years and counting of mediocre, often disappointing basketball. The franchise’s lone bright spot that year other than existence, opening night, and Stoudamire was the March 24 upset victory against perhaps the best team ever, the 72-10 (then-60-8) Chicago Bulls.
Still, it was – and is – NBA basketball being played in Canada, in Toronto. Basketball in Canada has expanded remarkably as a result, with 12 Canadians now in the NBA. The Raptors are a popular, national brand. We the north.
There’s so much we could go over looking back on 20 years of Raptors basketball, even though there’s been but a single playoff series victory and only seven playoff berths to date. Some of it was fun, some of it embarrassing, some of it just a distraction, some of it downright painful. There was Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Vince Carter’s dunks, Vince Carter’s miss from the corner against Philly, Chris Bosh, Hakeem Olajuwon, the Chris Childs shot, Rafael Araujo, Kevin O’Neill throwing a lamp, Sam Mitchell and Carter getting physical, all things Jalen Rose, Skip to My Lou, Forderon, Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker, Donyell Marshall’s 12-triple game, Kobe Bryant’s 81-point night, Mo-Pete’s winner after Michael Ruffin’s botched celebratory toss, Kyle Lowry Over Everything, JYD (1.0 and now 2.0), Jamario Moon fastbreak dunks, “F*** Brooklyn,” division #Bannerz, and all that’s left to come.
Happy anniversary, Raptors basketball. It’s tough to imagine what life was like before you.