New Year, Same Raptors

8 mins read

It’s easy to force your worldview on those around you. Not intentionally, but to assume others see the world, interpret it, the same way that you do. It’s especially easy when you’re a writer, to assume the perceptions of those about whom you’re writing. So when you ask about reflections, about year-in-reviews, about all the shift in thought that the inverted bookends of a new year bring, you assume that NBA players will have their own version of a New Year review. It turns out, not so much.

“[Do I reflect] for the year?” replied Nurse when I asked him to look back. “Well, not really. I think since basketball goes half in one year and half into the next, this isn’t really a demarcation point. It isn’t for me, anyway. You kind of live through the seasons as they go.”

No luck there on my quest to get the year-in-review quote. There’s a reason for that. The NBA season is, above perhaps all else, a grind. There’s really no time to do anything other than live in the present. There are games, and practices, and unofficial practices called walkthroughs, and shootarounds, and media availabilities, and community work, and players have lives to live. Players are celebrities, which takes a ton of time on its own. There are families and fans, video games, and varieties of other time-suckers. They have almost no time left to sit and ruminate, which is ironic, because time to sit and ruminate is just about the thing in which those who write about the NBA are richest.

“No, I don’t think [backwards],” said Pat McCaw in a quiet moment. “I don’t have the time. I’m so focused on what’s going on right now and in the future that looking back at the past, you’re grateful for it, but you try not to harp on it.”

The past is not to be lived in, either in the big picture or the small. You can’t live in the previous year as an NBA player. You can minimize that concept, shrink it as much as you want; that same danger of the past is inherent to each moment in the NBA.

“Yeah. Yeah. You can’t [look back],” said McCaw. “Even in a game, this present day, in a game when you’re missing shots, you can’t let that affect you. Once a shot’s missed, it’s over with, you can’t get that shot back. You need to play your game, continue to lock in what’s going on now. And the past, it can haunt you. Seriously. If you let it.”

It was fitting that the philosopher-player McCaw used the nuance of his everyday present to explain his relationship with the past. You can’t live in the past, or else you lose the present. His point of comparison, the lodestone in which he places his understanding of large timelines, was appropriately the game of basketball. Sometimes the small can seamlessly represent the big, such as the case of ignoring a missed jumper representing the concept of New Year New Me.

However, refusing to inhabit the past doesn’t mean that it isn’t to be appreciated.

“But I’m definitely grateful for where I am now, and what the past has done for me, and what the future holds,” continued McCaw. “It’s a blessing that I’m here. The position that I’m in, and where I’m trying to get to, and the levels I’m trying to reach. The past has been great.”

It’s a thin line between staying in the present while appreciating the past. So what, then, is the prism of New Year’s Eve?

“A new chapter, really,” said McCaw when asked. “Just, I wouldn’t say a fresh start, just to continue to build on the past. Not thinking about the past, but building off of where you are now, how far you’ve come, where you’re at, what you need to continue to work on. The new year is always a great thing.”

If worldviews are different between those in the NBA and those who write about the NBA, then it’s fitting that the New Year has differences between the two groups, too. The New Year for writers is a time for top-10 lists, or top-100 for the more ambitious. For years in review, for reflections. It’s a time to live in the past, if only for a fleeting week of content.

For NBA players, the new year is decidedly not a monument to the past. It can’t be. That’s too dangerous.

The Raptors have almost shown an allergy to the past this year. They have appreciated the championship but refused to live in it. This new year, this new team, has its own team and its own championship to chase. The past, because of Kawhi Leonard’s departure, is compartmentalized, shunted away. The New Year cannot be a time to look back, but instead to look forward, to build forward.

New Year’s Eve for the Raptors, in the small picture, was exclusively a step forward. The short-handed Raptors destroyed the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-97. For those who’ve blocked it out, or for the newest of new fans, the Cavaliers spent 10 straight games, or half an eternity, humiliating the Raptors in the playoffs this decade. That past, in that regard, will firmly be in the past next decade. For both teams. Toronto, of course, went on to win a championship. Just like McCaw said, the Raptors will build on the present, yet appreciate the past, without living in it. That’s less a New Year’s resolution than a constant ethos. Less a goal than a lived reality. The new year is nothing but another step forward, and therefore a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers nothing but another step towards this year’s playoffs. The Raptors have a brilliant past, even if they can’t dwell on it, and a bright future, even if they can’t look at it. New Year’s Eve for the Toronto Raptors is nothing but another night. Given the quality of this team’s trajectory forward and back, odds are that it was a fantastic night among many.

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