It isn’t the same.
This phrase can be used to describe a lot of realities living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Playoff basketball is one of them.
For the Toronto Raptors, there is a buzz in Scotiabank Arena when the playoffs begin. Raucous energy permeates the stadium, with fans on their feet to support Canada’s basketball team.
This year, we can’t congregate. We can’t cheer in person together. We can’t revel in the pandemonium of “Raptors Fever” that existed in every Canadian city and town last year when the team won the NBA Championship.
Despite playing in a fanless arena in Orlando, Florida, the Raptors got a taste of home in Game 1. During the pregame festivities, family members introduced the Raptors starting five.
Family first. #WeTheNorth
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 17, 2020
Whether it was Marc Gasol’s two daughters, Pascal Siakam’s brother or Fred VanVleet’s wife and kids, the moment provided a brief escape from the challenging realities of living and playing in a bubble.
The introductions ended with Raptors points guard Kyle Lowry, with his sons, Karter and Kameron, stealing the show. Before playoff games, Lowry is dialed in, serious about the task at hand.
When his two kids announced his name, Lowry broke into an infectious smile.
“It’s what we play for. For the fans and our families, my kids, Pascal’s brother, OG’s brother, Fred’s kids,” Lowry said to reporters after Monday’s game. “That’s a memory that will last forever.”
During Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Canadian national anthem played for the first time. A transformative moment for a sport that started its roots in Canada.
Before Game 1 of the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets first-round series, Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez delivered an even more powerful rendition of the country’s anthem, kneeled from the top of the CN Tower. It served as an important reminder that the NBA restart is only possible if players, coaches, media members, and citizens continue the important dialogue surrounding anti-black racism in Canada.
“It caught me by surprise,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said regarding the Canadian national anthem. “Unbelievable rendition. It took your breath away a little bit.”
When the game tipped off, it wasn’t the normal Raptors Game 1 performance in the first round. They played their style of basketball; limiting the opposing star player on defense while distributing the ball on offense. VanVleet secured a career playoff-high in points (30). Lowry put up 16 points, an improvement from his zero-point performance in Game 1 against the Orlando Magic last year. Seven Raptors players were in double-digit point totals, including bench guard Terence Davis II, who provided a burst of energy in the fourth quarter.
Peppered in fake crowd noise filled the arena once the buzzer sounded and the Raptors defeated the Nets 134-110. A reality far removed from the electric playoff atmosphere in Scotiabank Arena and Jurassic Park last year.
But in a pandemic world, getting a taste of home cannot be understated. The Raptors received a family welcome on Monday, demonstrating the unifying and connective power of basketball.