What’s the happiest you’ve ever been?
I’m talking tears of joy. Ecstasy. Elation beyond your wildest dreams.
Before you answer, I think it’s important to acknowledge that, no matter how different your moment from another person’s may be, each journey which led us to that emotional state is equally as turbulent and unpredictable as the next.
Happiness isn’t winning the lottery or running into your childhood hero at a Rabba. It’s not linear and it sure as hell isn’t instantaneous. True happiness is the cumulation of something that you’ve poured your heart into for more hours than you can possibly quantify.
At one point you probably thought you were almost there. Then things changed. You lost hope. You felt sorry for yourself. You got angry. Angry for even caring about that thing in the first place. You told yourself that this is the last time, several times.
But no matter how often you told yourself that this was pointless, that you had absolutely nothing left to give, you always found a way to keep on believing. A way to lower your benchmark for what sufficed as “happy”.
For Toronto Raptors fans, happiness has always been an extremely malleable term. Once upon a time it was simply having an exciting player to cheer for. We might not have been contending for a title, but at least we were guaranteed to get on a couple highlight reels. And we were content with that.
Then happiness came in the form of snapping a 5-year playoff drought. We knew Dwight Howard was going to kick our asses, but Raptors fans found solace in the fact that their team would be featured in an NBA Postseason. To be relevant was to be happy.
Then came the Andrea Bargnani era. A time when the only flicker of happiness was derived from the knowledge of how low the expectations for those teams were. We couldn’t be upset with a 22-60 record. Names like Linas Kleiza, Sonny Weems and Joey Dorsey prevented it.
The insertion of Masai Ujiri changed everything. He took a team that had been terribly managed, one that had lacked a consistent identity since its inception, and put it on a path towards success. Long story short, he got our hopes up again.
Following the rebuild-aimed Rudy Gay trade, something mind boggling happened: the Raptors began to win basketball games. Not a 5-game streak or a hot month of April, but consistently. It took a few months for Raptors fans to even accept that this refreshing brand of basketball wasn’t a hoax. But it soon came to the point where we no longer hoped to win. We expected it.
It was as if your ex-girlfriend who you thought you just got over, called and said she was moving back to town. You didn’t trust yourself to be as excited as you were, but you couldn’t help it, could you? We had a reason to smile again. A reason to hope.
The following few seasons, for as much excitement and potential they brought all ended in one of two ways:
- The Raptors beating themselves
- LeBron James
Raps fans need no reminding of the big brother syndrome Lebron held over their team’s head for the better part of a decade. We were dominated to the point where even the man’s approval brought us joy.
Following a Game 6 defeat at the hands of a Lebron-led Cavs team in 2016, the closest we ever got to a Finals appearance, we got a moment that continued to feed Toronto’s toxic infatuation with the Raptors.
As Doris Burke leaned in to the shoulder of Lebron James to begin the post-game interview, the PA announcer in Toronto began to play the thud of bass drums over the loud speaker. “Lets go Raptors”, the crowd began to chant. They all chanted in unison. As Doris struggled to squeak out an audible question, Lebron cut her off:
“Do you, do you hear this? Unbelievable respect to these fans and to this country. This is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like this in my 13-year career. This is special”.
6 straight NBA finals, more playoff games under his belt than hair follicles, and he chose to single out that crowd, our fanbase as something special. I don’t think I’m alone in saying his words meant a great deal to Toronto. They provided us a reason to believe in ourselves. They gave us an adrenaline shot of happy.
Fast forwarding through 2 more years of Lebron-induced heartbreak, Masai took one final home run swing on attempting to deliver the city of Toronto what it had coveted for 24 years.
The Kawhi trade, sacrificed the reality of being good, for the opportunity to become great. It was the proposal which would either end this torrid love affair for good, or get us to the place we had always dreamed of being.
Game 4 in Philly, The Shot, being down 0-2 to Giannis, a 16 point comeback, and a shockingly awful 3rd quarter performance. Disbelief, celebration, fear and redemption. These moments all served as stops on the final emotional roller coaster ride that this Raptors team took us on before arriving in the promise land.
Relationships, whether they be friendship-oriented, romantic, or with your favourite sports team are never easy. But they’re not supposed to be. There’s going to be times where you feel as if you’ve just summited the highest peak in the world. There will be moments when you question why you’re even doing this. Why you ever allowed yourself to endure something that has such a magnetic pull over emotional well-being. Why the hell you even care.
It’s not until you finally get to the end of the tunnel, and that moment happens, that you realize something:
It was all worth it.
Every late night and somber morning. Every time you screamed in anticipation of it almost happening. Every time you cried when it didn’t. Every time you recalibrated, hunted for a silver lining, and retooled your definition of happiness.
All the emotional turmoil and wreckage you put yourself through in pursuit of this one thing, are the very reasons that cause you to feel as incredibly happy as you do.
Maybe the Raptors first NBA Title in franchise history meant nothing to you. Maybe it meant everything. But regardless of what emotions this championship made you feel, we are all bonded by the humanistic nature of understanding what it takes to feel really, really good.
So when I ask you, what’s the happiest you’ve ever been? We’re all going to have wildly different responses. But the common denominator of all those answers is that the excruciatingly beautiful journey which led us there, is what defines our special moment.
The road we all take to get there is a unique experience, but the destination is a shared one.
So smile, laugh or cry together, Canada. 24 years of belief led you here. Enjoy the moment.
You deserve this.