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Christmas Day: It’s About Culture, Not The Raptors

The Toronto Raptors, at the Christmas Break, have the best record in the league. And on what is ostensibly the biggest regular season day in the NBA calendar, the best team in the league did not play. The New York Knicks will be playing. Portland is playing. Basically everyone else is playing, everyone but the Raptors. And this, understandably, is upsetting to their fans.

Five straight fifty win seasons, the number one seed in the Eastern Conference a year ago, an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard, and the Raptors still don’t merit a game on Christmas?  How is that possible? Is it straight up prejudice against Canada? Or is there another reason?

People like Richard Deitch from Sports Illustrated and other TNT commentators have always said the issue is pratics: that it’s expensive to film a game in Canada. And that cost is the main reason the Raptors do not appear on nationally televised games except as a road team.

I accept that. Well, I accept most of it. Everyone in the national media loves Toronto. Whether it’s Zach Lowe or Brian Windhorst or Charles Barkley, there is a lot of affection and credit given to the city and the organization. But there is another reason why Toronto is not playing on Christmas day, and it has nothing to do with the expense of televising a home Raptors game.

I grew up in Niagara, about thirty minutes from the border. When I was young we went to Buffalo all the time. Things were cheaper there. Not just milk and gas, but basketball shoes and clothes and computers. (I bought my Commodore 64 there when I was eleven. Also, yes, I’m old.) I went to Bills and Sabres’ games. And sometimes my dad would put on the local Buffalo news at night. (Usually just looking for information about the Bills.)

It shocked me, even as a young man, just how… local, their news was. It wasn’t that they didn’t just talk about Canada, it was that they didn’t talk about anything outside of Buffalo. You could watch any newscast in Canada, whether it was Hamilton or Toronto or Montreal, and there’d always be some kind of international news. So it was strange to me that their news cycle was so exclusively local. I didn’t understand it.

Like many Canadians, I have a number of amazing friends and family who are Americans, most of whom are very aware of what is going on in the world. But American culture, certainly within their media and the people who watch and sponsor their news cycles, is not.

The reason the Raptors are not playing on Christmas day has nothing to do with their success or lack of it in the playoffs. It’s that they reside in Toronto. And what most Raptor fans don’t realize is that it is largely due to American culture.

I worked in Pennsylvania for a few weeks when I was in my twenties. I was shocked at how little my American co-workers knew about Canada. Literally, they knew almost nothing. But about seventy five per cent of Canadians live within a hundred miles of the border, and the US is a cultural juggernaut, so this discrepancy is not shocking.

I’m not judging our southern neighbours (okay, maybe a little), but the truth is that no casual American fan wants to see the Raptors. The ones that follow the sport know how good they are. They are aware that Toronto is elite, an electrifying team capable of winning in any fashion, and that somehow, despite playing basically every game this season without a full lineup, still have the best record in the NBA. They are, in a word, terrifying.

And yet, here we are, and on the NBA’s biggest day, and they aren’t playing. Some commentators have said that the Raptors are the worst draw in the US, ratings wise. But those ratings don’t have anything to do with basketball. They’re indicative of something more foundational. (It’s the reason American fans chant U-S-A at Toronto Blue Jays games when half of the team is American?)

The Raptors have the best record in the league. They have beaten Golden State, the two-time defending champs, twice. They have put a fully healthy lineup on the floor about five times and it hasn’t mattered. Boston has sputtered. So have the Sixers. And everyone has made excuses for them. The Raptors? They just win. And they’re doing so in an historic manner.

So don’t worry about the Knicks playing on Christmas. Or Portland. Or anyone else. Your team has the best record in the league, and their schedule is only going to get easier. Christmas? New Years? Valentine’s Day? Who cares. For now, at least, the Raptors are the best, and that’s all that matters.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

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