The Toronto Raptors are not your 2016 NBA Playoff Champions.
If I had read that a year ago, I wouldn't have cared or expected any differently. When it comes to sports teams, Torontonians are used to disappointment.
But something felt different about the Raps this year.
Sure, having the Cleveland Cavaliers steamroll them Friday night and advance to the Conference Finals wasn't the outcome any fan or bandwagoner wanted. That said, anyone following this team shouldn't be shocked or upset.
That's because while the Raptors are losers, they're also record setters. They're history makers. And most importantly, they were the underdogs.
Nobody likes a loser, but everyone can get behind an underdog.
And to appreciate the scrappy, do-or-die Raptors of today, you need to understand the Raptors of 2013/2014. This was a roster featuring some familiar names and a team that hadn't made the playoffs since 2008.
DeMar DeRozan. Kyle Lowry. Jonas Valančiūnas. Terrance Ross -- some NBA All-Stars, all household names as of today. And despite it all, they bowed out after losing to the Brooklyn Nets after seven games.
TORONTO, ON - MAY 27: The Toronto Raptors bench reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada
But they'd be back at it again the next year... only to have the Washington Wizards sweep them in four.
It was clear while the Raptors were good enough to make the playoffs, they weren't very good staying in it.
That was until 2016.
Their franchise-record 56 wins placed them second seed in the East and guaranteed them a date with the seventh place Indiana Pacers.
Coach Dwane Casey will say the goal was to win every game, but on the inside, fans -- myself included -- were just hoping they'd move on.
And they did. Though it took seven games before they could advance to the semifinals, exercising their playoff demons and face off against the Miami Heat.
Beating them took another seven games -- including three (3!!) overtime matches -- before the Raptors made franchise history. This marked the first time the team had ever made it to a conference finals.
If only it wasn't for the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.
I'm by no means an expert on basketball. I only learned what a field goal was days ago. And I'm still turning to Google for reminders on the difference between technical and flagrant fouls.
But even I know who LeBron James is.
To put it in religious terms, you may not know the 12 Commandments by heart but you definitely know who this "God" figure everyone keeps talking about. And while LeBron James is certainly human, watching his thunderous dunks or his miraculous plays can sometimes leave you with doubts.
TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 27: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers prepares to shoot a free throw against the Toronto Raptors in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 27, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
While the Raptors played 14 games to make it to the conference finals, Cleveland only played eight, sweeping both the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks.
Many had pegged a similar sweep for the Raps and the Cavs would go undefeated at least until the finals. And it certainly looked that way after two complete blowouts against Toronto at the Quicken Loans Arena.
But the Raptors, playing like the gritty underdogs they have since mid-April, did what no other team had done so far: beat the Cavaliers not once, but twice at home.
And home is where the Raptors shine, thanks to their fans whether they've got $300,000 a year to spend on tickets or the kind that spends $30 on bar food and booze, reminding everyone that "defence" is a two- syllable word while watching the TV.
And while home wasn't enough to win it in game six, make no mistake: what the Toronto Raptors accomplished this year defied all expectations. That now makes them a team to watch out for and if you're a bandwagoner-turned-fan, they'll be an enjoyable team to keep watching.
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