Kyle Lowry & the Raptors: A mismatch made in heaven

Reminiscing on Kyle Lowry's history as a Toronto Raptor

The trade deadline was emotional for fans of the Toronto Raptors, as they hung onto every Raptors-related tweet like Jack hung onto the wooden door in the North Atlantic ocean, moments after the unsinkable Titanic vanished under the midnight tide. That’s where the similarities between Canada’s beloved Dinos and James Cameron’s box-office hit end.

To everyone in the basketball world, Kyle Lowry was as gone as Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl (great book & movie by the way). Yet, when you saw Masai Ujiri during the deadline presser, there was no sense of panic or disappointment.

Toronto has been and will continue to be Kyle Lowry’s metaphorical home (for the next few months anyway). I remember the day the Raptors acquired Lowry. I thought to myself “well, dude’s probably going to leave once his contract expires.” Around the league, nobody considered the trade a significant moment for Toronto, and you can’t blame them.

Lowry being the only mainstay from the Bryan Colangelo era is poetic in the sense that he’s the only Raptor whose tenure supersedes Ujiri’s. Although Ujiri didn’t make the move to acquire Lowry, he added a blossoming 3-and-D specialist like OG Anunoby, a high-motored guard like Fred VanVleet, and a versatile forward like Pascal Siakam, all of whom complement Lowry’s skill set. Ujiri may have built the Raptors, but it wasn’t from the ground up; he always had Lowry as a foundation around which to fashion the project.

Being an underdog himself, it’s no surprise that Ujiri was one of the loudest voices to challenge Lowry to become a leader and take full reign of the Raptors in 2013. Through his first six years, Lowry was considered a polar opposite version of himself today. He fell out of favour in Memphis after his rookie year, and in Houston his unhappiness with Rockets personnel (specifically former coach Kevin McHale) was well documented.

The beauty of Lowry’s beginning is that it mirrors the Raptors’ own on so many levels. At first, nobody wanted anything to do with either.

The Raptors played their first game when Mariah Carey’s Fantasy was number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Fantasy… also a fitting word for describing Toronto’s championship aspirations before Lowry.

In 2006, Lowry chose to forgo his final two years at Villanova and declared for the NBA, unknowingly planting seeds for what would become a storied relationship between a man and a city. Fast-forward to that same year’s draft when David Stern came on stage and made the following announcement:

Nobody will ever forget the ‘Primo Pasta’ commercials. But I wonder… was the partnership a result of Il Mago’s ‘hunger’ or was it a concerted effort put together by Primo’s marketing team? The fans embraced him, the city embraced him and in return, his ‘hunger’ led him to a life, and a career, he never knew was obtainable

Seriously though; Colangelo made a slew of moves that were questionable. Taking Bargnani number one was just the beginning of his unsuccessful tenure in Toronto. But then, 23 picks later, this happened…

24. The pick used to select Kyle Lowry.
24. Seasons it took for the Raptors to win their first NBA championship.

Lowry wasn’t always the leader you see today. Prior to his arrival in 2012, the consensus around the league was that he was a negative in the locker room and difficult to work with, which led him to having multiple conversations with Ujiri, his agent Andy Miller, and mentor Chauncey Billups. They all asked the same thing:

Why are you a similarity between multiple situations that have gone wrong? You’ve got to look in the mirror sometimes.

That didn’t mean he saw Toronto as a chance to change his image. When the trade happened, Lowry had the same thought process as everyone before him. “In two years I’ll be a free agent, and I’ll be gone.” It was usually what went through the mind of any above-average player who was sent to the Raptors. Those who even bothered to finish their contracts out, that is.

For Lowry, the starting point guard job wasn’t even a guarantee, and Dwane Casey preferred Jose Calderon (and his clapping defense) over Toronto’s newest point guard.

But on January 30, 2013, the Dinos executed arguably the most important trade in franchise history. I know what you’re thinking — the Kawhi Leonard trade will always be known for completing the puzzle of the Raptors journey to their first championship. However, that move doesn’t happen without Toronto and Lowry establishing their relationship first.

The Raptors shipped out Jose Calderon, the incumbent and staple for almost eight years. This was Toronto saying to Lowry “okay. I’m going to trust you and regardless of your past, you’re now in the driver’s seat.” It was a trust fall, and the organization had to put itself out there before it could ask Lowry to do the same.

It was a seismic shift in philosophy. Lowry had never been offered such responsibility. The trade wasn’t even meant to accelerate Lowry’s growth. Instead, the headline was Toronto acquiring Rudy Gay, another one of Lowry’s 2006 draft mates. Lowry had earned the starting point guard position, but he wasn’t yet the team’s foundational star. That’s when the reflection in the mirror began to resemble the man we know today.

Jun 13, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and guard Kyle Lowry (7) celebrate beating the Golden State Warriors in game six of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The fit with Gay was never a solid one. He never saw a shot he didn’t like, infamously scoring 29 points on 37 shots against Houston in a losing effort in double overtime and was traded to Sacramento later that year. The Raptors were 4-19 before the Gay trade and 30-29 after; Toronto found something that worked in a team led by Lowry and DeMar DeRozan alone.

Lowry has since become synonymous with the Toronto Raptors. He’ll always be the greatest Raptor of all time. Oh and that starting point guard gig? It’s a spot he’s occupied ever since the Calderon trade, eight years ago.

Over those years, he’s earned the reputation as a leader and a hustler. Taking charges, directing his teammates, and coaching when he’s not on the floor. He’s a winner, no matter his age.

His growth from a young, inexperienced cub who never listened to his pride, into a wise, battle-tested lion has been awe-inspiring.

The depth of the heartbreak that Raptors fans knew so intimately transformed into the height of love for Lowry. It’s the kind of love that required work, that needed building, that wasn’t anything at first sight.

Everyone and their (sweet, wonderful) grandmother thought Lowry would be traded on March 25, this year’s trade deadline. The night before, he even had a career best plus-42 as Toronto decimated the Denver Nuggets in what many believed was his last game in a Raptors jersey. It would have been the perfect ending.

It would have been like a last night with the one you love. Fireworks, a romantic dinner, reminiscing about the good times, laughing about the bad times, all the inside jokes, and a beautiful pink-orange sunset by the beach as you take in every last moment together. The perfect sendoff.

The next day, you wake up and find out their departure isn’t imminent anymore. In fact, they might not have to leave at all. This could mean that your relationship doesn’t have to end. But you’ll face the unknown again after three short months.

But just like the last nine years, the remainder of the relationship between Lowry and Toronto — whether three months or another chapter entirely — will be a trust fall.