Every possession tells a tale: it has its origin story, a middle and a final act. This spring we lived by the possession. Hearts across the nation palpitated every time the ball got inbounded, crossed the halfcourt line, got released out of a double, or any other of the million variations that happen on the court. By the time the possession concluded it had left an emotional and physical imprint. There was no time to breathe as it was on to the next one. Every single one of us had our own idea of what was needed from each possession. A stop to cancel out our missed shot. Concede a two but not a three. Nobody foul on this one. Get to the line. Use up all 24 seconds. Don’t concede an offensive rebound. Get a two to stay within three. The list goes on. The possessions accumulated and became stretches. Stretches have their own tale, one of survival or opportunity. Stretches became quarters and they have their own storylines. Quarters became games and games became series. These units of play when stitched together are much like chemical reactions with unpredictable outcomes. Your mind is racing, your heart is sinking, your throat is parched, your eyes can’t bear to watch, your thoughts aren’t your thoughts anymore. They’re a chain of reactions which your brain isn’t able to parse, let alone explain. All you have is a feeling. It cannot be described because our language isn’t rich enough to account for the million inputs that go into the feeling. Vulnerability is a word that conveys the constant undertone of each possession but it’s far from complete.
The emotional toll of watching Raptors basketball has till now ended in these emotions dissipating and dissolving into dark clouds. Nobody knew what the other side felt like. I now have access to the other side and am experiencing it much like a hermit in tune with his breathing. I haven’t read or listened to anything because I view that as polluting my senses. I am focused entirely on how this has affected me as a person. In the aftermath of Game 6 I concluded that this experience has released a new chemical into our brains that will stay with us permanently. It has altered our perceptions much like psilocybin mushrooms or LSD do.
I have a hard time getting upset anymore. I got a speeding ticket on Friday and it didn’t bother me at all. My sprinkler system burst and I couldn’t care less, just a triviality of modern life. Spent two hours in a line which usually takes ten minutes – hey, shit happens. Such a huge gap in my sense of being has been filled that I feel healthier. The Raptors are a big part of many of our lives and what happens to them matters. If your kid is getting bullied at school you’ll be affected. If you have a terrible boss you’ll feel it. While not at the same degree, this is true for the Raptors. Certainly if you’re reading this site you’re more than a casual fan and can hopefully relate. This title win is a permanent shift in our perspective of the world and though your mileage may vary about how significant that shift is, it’s a shift nonetheless. I might even plant a tree today, or at least avoid trampling on a flower.
I’m sure there have been articles written about the awesomeness of everyone. I tried reading one on theringer.com and got bored because I was present throughout this entire run. It almost took away from the experience because someone was trying to describe to me what I felt and there are no words for what I felt. For me, there is no need to describe or analyze anything and the only course of pleasure is to get in tune with this state of mind and enjoy it. We love nostalgia because it reminds us of a time when we were at relative peace and felt content with our lives, and we long for that place again. Nevermind that its literal meaning is closer to a “pain from an old wound”. If I am fortunate enough to live a long life, decades from now I will recollect this feeling with great warmth and satisfaction. I will long for it. At the same time I will value the pain I felt going through this emotionally captivating run.
Perhaps what might make this experience more special than other titles is the history of failure that preceded it. Or how this was, much like the Pistons, a team victory more than one delivered by a trio of surefire Hall of Famers. Or how it offers a perspective of how far we’ve come – from Kenny Anderson chaining himself to his locker in Portland to this. Or how close we came to tanking for Wiggins. It doesn’t matter and I will not try to explain it. The only thing I do know is that the title endorphins are having an effect which is well beyond the game of basketball.
Inevitably lasting memories were formed and for me it wasn’t a discrete event that stood out. Kawhi’s Game 7 shot, Fred’s end-of-clock three, Curry’s missed jumper and many others are mere bricks in the larger picture. It was the death-by-possession that has formed a permanent impression on my soul. Anticipating and hoping for a positive outcome 24 seconds at a time is what took its toll. The anxiety of knowing how failure would feel like given how close we’d come supplied the undertones of games 5 and 6. It’s the three long days between Kyle Lowry’s last second miss in Game 5 and the tip-off for Game 6 that I will remember. If there’s a basketball equivalent of death row, that might be it. I would’ve given anything for the ability to go to sleep after Game 5 and wake up right before Game 6.
Two opposing schools of thoughts kept colliding through this entire run. On one hand, wouldn’t it be oh so quintessential Toronto sports to screw this up? The negativity that has formed over decades of heartbreak gives way to thoughts that crush your soul. Would this be Golden State’s 3-1 revenge? Wouldn’t it be poetic for them to reverse the only blemish on their mark and for the Raptors to serve as the mannequin? A chance to close at home and we blow it. Surely this is the beginning of the end. Kawhi’s not getting clear foul calls, oh man, the fix is in.
Diametrically opposed to these thoughts were the ones that echoed of how this team was different. Distinctively different. They had Kawhi Leonard but they also had resolve. The were unphased in the face of adversity and if anything it lifted them to greater heights. How many punches could we take? Would we have enough to throw one more back? Of course we would, we had paid our dues over years of playoff heartbreak. The Brooklyn Game 7 loss. Swept by Washington. LeBronto. All these were leading to an apex and this is that zenith. This is where we reap what we had painfully sowed and cultivated. This is where it comes together.
Every possession these two perspectives violently collided. Nobody knew which one would prevail – we told ourselves it would be the latter but deep inside we feared the former. The sweat while watching the theater is proof of the suffering.
In Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky mused, “Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is a fact.”
It is true. There was nothing more satisfying and beautiful than suffering through this spring. And I’m a better man for it.