The playoffs have become an annual rite of complete emotional disarray for Toronto Raptors fans. From the jubilance that spawned Jurassic Park and had the Air Canada Centre as the loudest building in the league to the collective Brian Wilson experience we all had following the Washington series to the Eastern Conference finals run last year that was ultimately great (I think?) but took years off our lives. The playoffs are starting to bring about a kind of borderline anxiety disorder amongst many of us. Being an emotionally invested fan of a sports team is irrational by nature. The word fanatic doesn’t imply wellness to begin with. To allow the outcome of a game played on television by a group of people that you don’t know personally to have a large affect on your overall happiness or well-being is, without question, stupid. I understand that. Many, if not most of us understand that. It doesn’t help, it doesn’t matter, and it’s getting worse.
Personally, I go out of my way to try and really care about as few things as possible in life. I’ve become fairly good at it. I’m not a sociopath; I just appreciate the convenience of feeling as little emotion as possible. It’s an uncomplicated, efficient delight. Several people in my life have taken to calling me a robot. They almost definitely do not mean it as the compliment that I take it as. Sports, and the Raptors in particular, are a nasty thorn in my side exception to this. I am powerless to stop the outcome of a Toronto Raptors playoff game from completely dictating my emotional well being. Loses have resulted in moping, social media meltdowns, binge eating and heavy drinking. Wins have resulted in moments of pure exaltation, followed by hours of simple relief that we didn’t lose and cause me to go through the downward spiral that soon gives way to building nervousness going into the next game (Gosh, being a fan is so much fun!).
One of the problems is that I simply don’t know what to expect from the Raptors. None of us do. Their remarkable consistency in the regular season over the last few years has turned into frightening inconsistency with infuriating consistency. You do not know what to expect when you turn on a Raptors game over the course of this current roster core. Was it silly to expect anything different coming into this Bucks series? Of course, in hindsight! But none of us thought that going in, and it and the 8-foot alien arms of Giannis Antetemounmpo were the last straw in pushing us over the edge into emotional anarchy and a state of constant anxiety.
I asked as many Raptors fans as I know how they felt emotionally coming into tonight’s game. Nobody said “great!” A few of them said that they felt good or confident, but then immediately hedged that with confidence with several follow up sentences that revealed the bubbling nervousness underneath. The subtext was, basically, “I feel good. I think we’ll win. Unless this bad thing happens. Or that bad thing. Or Kyle and DeMar suddenly can’t shoot again. Or the Bucks adjust. Or Carroll keeps clanking preposterous pull-up 3s. Or if Giannis hits his shots. Or if a meteor hits. Or if God remembers that he hates me and all the rest of us.” Even the optimistic people have quickly devolved into madness. They’re genuinely optimistic and feeling confident, they’re just also teetering on the verge of complete nervous breakdown. My friend Imran even went as far as comparing how he feels as a Raptors fan to having an alcoholic parent. “When things are going well and they’re in control, everything feels so good. It brings you this unbridled warmth, like unexpected sunlight gently caressing your face. Now when things begin to sour and they reach for that bottle, you can’t help but feel so scared, hopeless, angry even. Except for this analogy, the bottle would be iso basketball and indifferent defense. When they’re sober, they’re sharing the ball, hitting open threes and playing relentless defense possession after possession. But I’m there for them every game, longing for the team I know and care for. And hoping don’t smell the stench of whisky when they show up.”
This is where we’ve somehow gotten to as Raptors fans. It is not a healthy place. But don’t think that each and every one of aren’t going to be watching every single moment of this game, glued to the screen. Yes, the Raptors are an anxiety disorder. But they’re our anxiety disorder, goddamn it, and we love them.