Why are the Raptors in the NBA?

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The NBA is undoubtedly an American league. So, why are the Raptors in the NBA, a predominantly USA-based organization, when the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) is already operating as a professional basketball league in Canada?

Why is Toronto Raptors Part of the NBAWhy is Toronto Raptors Part of the NBA?

The NBA, short for the National Basketball Association, is an American league. So, it’s only natural to wonder why there is a Canadian team in the NBA.

Part of the Guiding Principles of the NBA is to “connect people everywhere through the power of basketball”, and expanding to territories beyond the United States borders is one way of staying true to that vision. So, in 1995, the NBA launched the expansion to Canada. This drive to spread the love for the game led to the formation of the Toronto Raptors.

International Appeal and Expansion Interests

The move to create a Canada-based team was seen as a strategic method to popularize basketball in markets that had largely been dominated by other sports, like hockey. In a way, the Canada expansion was the opening salvo of a long and arduous campaign to take the NBA global.

The Only Game in Town

Think about it. With the Toronto Raptors being Canada’s only NBA team, they’ve practically got the entire country’s hoop junkies rallied behind them. Dividing loyalty amongst 29 other teams? Umm, not so much! Before the Raptors, NBA games were already popular among Canadian viewers. So, by granting a franchise to Toronto, the NBA was catering to an existing audience, thus likely assuring good viewership and revenues.

Rich Basketball History

The Toronto Huskies was a founding member of the Basketball Association of America, a forerunner of the National Basketball Association. This gives the city historical ties to the league and the game in general. However, the Huskies couldn’t sustain operations due to poor attendance and an unsuccessful campaign and had to fold after just one season.

Professional basketball did not return to Toronto for nearly 50 years, although the Buffalo Braves of the NBA played 16 regular-season games at Maple Leaf Gardens between 1971 and 1975. But Toronto residents and Canadians, in general, have slowly developed an appetite for the game and were clamoring for their own team.

Brief History of Toronto RaptorsBrief History of Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors have experienced quite a lot in the NBA despite being relatively new to the league. They’ve experienced being at the very bottom of the win-loss column and they know it is to be on top. They’ve also undergone the cycle of rebuilding, contending, and, eventually, winning it all.

Here are a few highlights in the Raptors’ history:

  • 1993: As part of the NBA’s initiative to spread basketball, they granted a franchise to Toronto and Vancouver.
  • 1995-1996: After getting the front office executives and the players, the Raptors played their first season in 1995 with the first overall pick in the draft surrounded by a team of journeymen.
  • 1998: Vince Carter’s arrival via trade gave the Raptors its first taste of having an NBA superstar on the roster.
  • 2001: As Carter grew into his potential as a scorer, the Raptors clinched its first playoff spot for the first time ever. However, the team faced the Iverson-led 76ers in an epic 7-game series that is still considered today as one of the most exciting conference finals showdowns ever.
  • 2006: After accepting that Vince Carter wouldn’t be able to lead the team past the second round, the Raptors went all-in on their 2003 fourth-overall pick, Chris Bosh. He became a reliable All-Star for the Raptors.
  • 2013: The Raptors unveiled a new marketing campaign called “We the North!”. It embraced the team’s unique position as league outsider.
  • 2015-2018: Spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors were able to get to the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons. However, they could never make it past the second round.
  • 2019: The arrival of Kawhi Leonard turned out to be a game-changer, with his huge defensive presence and that iconic buzzer-beater against Philadelphia.
  • 2019: With Kawhi leading the charge, the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors to clinch their first NBA Championship.

Are all the Raptors Players CanadianAre all the Raptors Players Canadian?

Canadian basketball talents have caught up with the U.S. Steve Nash, for example, is a Canadian-born player who was named Most Valuable Player of the NBA in 2005 and 2006. Another important Canadian basketball pillar is Bob Houbregs, who has also made it into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. However, very few pillars of Canadian basketball have had the privilege to play for the Raptors or the Vancouver Grizzlies.

The Raptors have not been known for actively pursuing Canadian players. In fact, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and other beloved Raptors players all non-Canadians. The team is more focused on creating a competitive roster regardless of nationality.

Did Raptors Ever Win an NBA ChampionshipDid Raptors Ever Win an NBA Championship?

With their aggressive trading strategies, it’s evident that the Raptors organization is determined to build a championship-caliber team every single season since the team’s inception. They’ve had their first taste of the playoffs in 2001 and during the mid-2010s, a successful rebuild, led by fan favorites DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, got the team as deep in the playoffs as the conference finals. So, when did the Raptors win the championship?

The Toronto Raptors’ 2019 NBA Championship win is a historic moment, not only for the franchise but also for basketball in Canada. Let’s review the key points, including their progression and final victory.

The Raptors’ successful championship run took place during the 2018-2019 season. They squared off against the two-time defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, in a best-of-seven playoff series, eventually defeating them 4–2.

5 Notable NBA Players of Toronto Raptors5 Notable NBA Players of Toronto Raptors

The Raptors were able to attract the best young talent the NBA has to offer. They have had a couple of first-overall picks and a few notable players acquired via trade. Here are some of the most memorable players.

1. Vince Carter

Vince Carter is one of the first true superstars to have graced the NBA courts in a Raptors jersey. Aside from being considered one of the GOATs in the Slam Dunk competition, he’s also a versatile offensive threat. He helped the time get a taste of their first-ever playoff appearance in 2001, which ended with an exciting series with the 76ers.

2. DeMar DeRozan

The Raptors went on a rebuild phase in the mid-2010s with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as the core of the team. The duo led them to five consecutive playoff appearances and even a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. DeRozan was the undisputed franchise player, with Lowry settling as the second scoring option and primary playmaker. 

3. Kyle Lowry

After consecutive appearances at the playoffs, and the birth of the Heatles in Miami, the Eastern Conference has become more difficult for the DeRozan and Lowry duo. The front office had to make moves or else suffer from languishing in the East. The Raptors ended up shipping off DeRozan to the Spurs in 2019 leaving Lowry with the franchise until 2021.

4. Kawhi Leonard

For a player who’s played less than 70 games in a Raptors uniform, he’s also undoubtedly one of the most accomplished. He helped the team win its first and only NBA championship on his way to winning the Finals MVP. So, even if he hasn’t played as a Raptor for very long, he’s still worth mentioning as a prized catch for the franchise.

5. Pascal Siakam

After the beloved duo of DeRozan and Lowry left, the Raptors were in a dire situation, looking for the next face of the franchise. Fortunately, Pascal Siakam was already on the roster. He had a breakout season in 2019 that was worthy of the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. And he’s become one of the cornerstones of the Raptors ever since.

Are There Any Other Canadian Teams in the NBAAre There Any Other Canadian Teams in the NBA?

The Toronto Raptors are currently the only NBA team based outside of the United States. However, with the NBA media deal coming up in 2025, Vancouver and a few other cities are looking to pursue a brand-new franchise.

Wrapping Things Up: Why are the Raptors in the NBA?

The NBA is always looking for opportunities for growth. In 1995, this meant pursuing expansion teams in Canada for its strategic location, wide viewership, and rich basketball history. The Toronto Raptors franchise is a direct result of this endeavor. And after almost three decades in the league, it’s safe to say that the team’s success serves as a good template for how future expansion teams can catapult themselves into relevance in the NBA.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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