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An oral history of the Raptors’ championship rings

All the info you could want about Toronto's new championship rings, which are the largest in the history of NBA championship rings

The Toronto Raptors have enjoyed numerous nights to celebrate their championship. There was of course the night following the win, in the Bay Area. Then the team flew to Las Vegas, and a smaller group continued the party in Los Angeles. Guys were famously loose and carefree during the parade. And now, the Raptors can add the night of the ring ceremony to their list.

“Seeing the ring was really the moment where I was like, ‘it’s done,’ said Chris Boucher.

It’s the last little hurrah of what was last year,” said Malcolm Miller. “As you know, we’ve been focused on this year, moving on this year, so it’s one last little reminder of what we can do, and set our goals high. That’s how I’m looking at it. It’s a good feeling for last year, and it’s a good starting point for this year.”

The championship rings were a secret to almost everyone on the roster. Asked whether they’d seen it, almost every player said no. Not knowing doesn’t mean the players weren’t excited.

“[I’ve been excited] ever since we won, honestly,” said Norm Powell. “It’s a big night. Excited to actually finally see and get the ring. Been hearing a lot about it, everybody’s talked about it, everybody’s been asking me if I’ve seen it. I haven’t. I’ve heard quite a big ring from talking to Kyle. So I’m excited.”

Big might have been an understatement. As revealed by Powell, only Kyle Lowry, the heart of the team and chosen by MLSE for the role of team ring liaison, knew what was in store for his teammates.

I think everyone just wants to be surprised,” said Lowry, answering why no one else had seen it. “I guarantee you this: Everyone last one of the players is going to say wow. They’re going to say wow in a spectacular way.”

He was right. Lowry and MLSE coordinated with Peter Kanis of Baron Rings to design the team’s rings. With more than 650 individual diamonds in each ring, Toronto’s are the largest NBA championship rings of all time. The players were shocked at the size. Miller was told to be surprised, and  he was still staggered when he saw his ring. He said after the game that it took up a whole finger, and he rushed after the game to finish so he could see it again.

“I mean, I was looking at my hand, and it’s like I lose one finger,” agreed Boucher.

Lowry, however, wanted more than historic size for the rings. One important element was that Nav Bhatia received a ring as a symbol of inclusion for fans. Bhatia has never missed a single game in Raptors’ history, and he was ecstatic to be included. Beyond that, the rings themselves fulfilled the desired goals.

“The key thing is [Kyle] wanted to represent the city, the country, and the team, and those were his three key elements,” said Kanis. “He didn’t want the logo on the top because that doesn’t represent everything, that just represents the team. What represents the country and the city?”

They settled upon the Toronto skyline.

The Toronto Raptors’ championship ring with skyline on front | photograph: Louis Zatzman
Kyle Lowry’s name and number engraved on the side of his championship ring | photograph: Louis Zatzman
World champions 2019, below every players’ number and ruby insert | photograph: Louis Zatzman

Players had a chance to customize their individual rings, with space for short messages across the bottom. “Inside, on the bottom shank, they all had their own personal engraving on there,” explained Kanis. Chosen mottoes ranged from the humble to the regal.

I just put a little message on there for my family,” said Miller. “That’s my foundation. That’s where I came from. Just a reminder that they’re all who helped me get to that point.”

I think I put Three-Time Champ on mine,” said Pat McCaw with a smile. “I did. I did.”

Nurse thinks he wrote “expect the win”. Ibaka featured an engraved silhouette of the continent of Africa.

Each player received his ring during a ceremony before the game, which started with a video projected across the court.

Rings were given, and a banner was revealed, adorned around the edges with last names of all the players on the roster.

The Raptors unveil their 2018-19 championship banner | photograph: Toronto Raptors

It was emotional at times. VanVleet and Ibaka covered their eyes with emotion when the banner was raised, as cheers showered down from a full and appreciate stadium. Masai Ujiri received an MVP chant from the crowd, and he raised a fist in the air, smile wide across his face. The whole organization received love, from communications and training staff to Head Coach Nick Nurse. A variety of staff members, including Wayne Embry and Alex McKechnie received rings of their own.

When Nurse entered the building for shoot-around earlier in the day, he found himself looking in the rafters to guess where the banner would hang. He was excited, but he admitted after the game that the ceremony was far more emotional than he expected. Though Nurse wore his 1985 state championship high school ring at the ceremony, others on the team chose not to outshine the 2018-19 championship ring with the presence of other rings.

McCaw had a chance to wear three championship rings and outshine his teammates. He chose not to: “No, the other two are back home in a safety deposit box,” he said. “[Wearing them all] would have been cool. But it ain’t about it, it’s about the team, so I’m gonna make that the focus.”

Of course, not every player on the 2019-20 roster earned a ring. Other players may not have won rings themselves, but some still had connections. Oshae Brissett’s status as a Toronto-raised Raptors fan meant the ceremony still had special significance.

I feel like I’ve been a part of this from being home, and that’s how all of Toronto, all of Canada feels, we all feel like we’re a part of the championship run,” said Brissett. “These guys talk about wanting that same feeling again, again, and seeing the guys who’ve already accomplished that want more, want it again, it makes you want it even more than them.”

Even if I was at home or anywhere else, I would be watching this game,” Brissett added.

You couldn’t write this,” said the Pelicans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker, also a Torontonian. “You can’t make this up. For me to have this experience [of playing my first game in Toronto], I’m truly honoured and blessed… The [ceremony is] great for the city. But at the same time, I’m a Pelican. I’m happy they won last year, but as far as it goes now, all that’s out the window.”

Whether Raptor or Pelican, Canadian or American, player or coach, the rings had unique significance for all. Players put varying messages on their rings, and the ceremony held multitudes of meaning for all involved. But there was one consistency across the board. Everyone said that the ring and banner ceremonies are a bookend to a joyous and wildly successful 2018-19. The championship was won, and it has been celebrated. But now it’s over; it’s time to get back to work.