Toronto Raptors: A Super Quick History

Formation years: 1993 – 1997

The Toronto Raptors have existed for over 25 years, and are one of the two youngest teams in the NBA. But despite their relative short existence compared to other NBA franchises, the team has experienced a uniquely colorful past including battles for ownership and even fights over who gets to play in who’s arena. This is a super quick history of the Toronto Raptors…

The Raptors were formed in 1993 as an expansion team and the 28th franchise of the NBA for what was at the time a record 125 million dollar expansion fee. The team would be joined by another Canadian expansion franchise, the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Raptors ownership group comprised of several individuals,  the most prominent were former basketball player Isaiah Thomas of who owned a small share. The two majority owners were businessman Allan Slaight, and John Bitove Jr. seen here in an intimate moment with the raptors logo. You might think that’s weird, but this guy was loving it!  

With the ownership in place, and the expansion granted by the NBA, The Raptors would bring a return of pro basketball to Toronto for the first time in 48 years. The previous basketball team the Toronto Huskies folded in 1947  due to low attendance and a poor record of 22 wins and 38 losses season.

The Raptors name came as a result of a nation wide contest. 2000 entries were submitted, and a short list of about ten names were considered. Some of those were Dragons, Scorpions, and Hogs. Hogs being considered because the nickname for the city of Toronto is HogTown, mainly because at one point they were home to the largest pork processing company in the British Empire.. But we don’t need to get into all of that right now. The Raptors name was selected due in some part of its uniqueness but also the popularity of the movie Jurassic Park at the time. 

The team chose colors of purple, red, silver, and black. Silver was chosen in honor of Canadian James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Seen here picking basketballs from his favorite basketball tree. Now it was difficult tracking down the reason silver was chosen to honor James Naismith, but I believe it had something to do with Canada winning the silver medal for Basketball in the 1936 Olympics. Naismith himself personally handed out the winning medals to each nation. But if you happen to be a basketball historian or just a James Naismith enthusiast and know the real answer, please leave a comment below! 

Before the start of their first season in 1995, the Raptors were looking for a temporary arena to play in until a permanent arena could be built. Owner John Bitove contacted the owners of the Maples Leafs who were playing at the aging Maple Leafs Gardens arena  , to see i f the raptors could play in their arena. They said no.

You see, a few years earlier the ownership of the Maple Leafs, known at the time as Maple Leafs Gardens Limited or MLGL they had wanted to start an NBA franchise in Toronto and made an official bid to the NBA. However, John Bitove and Allan Slaight’s group were picked over the Maple Leafs group, and so MLGL lost out on their chance to own an NBA franchise. Now flashing forward a couple of years, When it came time for the Raptors to find a temporary home before their arena could be built,  MLGL had no real desire to help out the Raptors.

This forced the Raptors into a difficult situation, and they settled on playing their home games at the SkyDome now known as the Rogers Centre. Although the SkyDone was built as a multi purpose stadium mainly for baseball and football…no, not that kind of football…yep this kind of football. The stadium wasn’t really designed for basketball, creating cavernous viewing experiences for the fans. But the Raptors made due in the meantime, and played there for four seasons, from 1995 to 1999.

During this time, the owners got to work on plans for a new arena that would be built in downtown Toronto. The two majority owners John Bitove and Allan Slate quickly came to a disagreement about the financing of the arena. Slaight wanted to partner with the Maple Leafs who were also looking to build a new arena, while Bitove (who was not too happy about MLGL refusing to let them play at their place) felt the Raptors should go alone on the deal. Slaight thought that would be financial suicide to build a basketball only arena, and so a standoff between the two majority owners ensued. 

Shotgun Clause

The ownership agreement between the partners had a shotgun clause, that essentially meant that if the owners disagreed about the future direction of the club, one owner could buy out the other within 60 days. This type of deal typically favors the shareholder with more cash on hand than the other, and in this case that shareholder was Slaight. By the end of 1996, Slaight bought  out Bitoves ownership and gained nearly 80 percent control of over the Raptors. Seeing an opportunity arise, MLGL came back into the picture and made a deal with Slaight to take 100 percent ownership the Raptors and the new arena. With the deal completed, MLGL changed their name to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. They now had what the originally wanted all along, which was ownership of an NBA team in Toronto. With the dust settling on the ownership shakeups, plans for a new arena could move forward. 

During the 1995 expansion draft, the Raptors used their first ever franchise selection to pick three time champion BJ Armstrong. However, Armstrong refused to report to training camp and the team was forced to trade him to the Golden State Warriors. In fact, of all the players drafted by the team that year, only three players would end up playing more than one season with the Raptors. 

As with most expansion teams, the early years were full of struggles. The team never managed to finished better than last place in their division during their first three seasons . 

Missed Opportunities 1998 – 2004

The Raptors fortunes would soon change. During the 1998 draft, Toronto traded their fourth pick to the Golden State Warriors for the fifth pick, and they acquired star Vince Carter. He would end up winning rookie of the year, and became a fan favorite for showcasing his incredible dunking skills.

On February 19, 1999 the Air Canada Centre was opened, becoming the new home to Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs. The arena would eventually change it’s name to the Scotia Bank Arena in 2018.

After winning 47 games in the 2000-2001 season, The Raptors cliched a spot in the playoffs, playing the New York Knicks in the first round. They would go on to win their first ever playoff series, by beating the Knicks in 5 games. Unfortunately, the Raptors would fall short of the NBA Finals by one game, after losing in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Due to financial struggles stemming from the 1998 lockout, and the poor attendance that followed. The Vancouver Grizzlies packed up and moved to Memphis Tennessee starting in the 2001-2002 season. This left the Raptors as the only Canadian NBA team. 

What had begun as a promising start to the Vince Carter era, quickly started to fade. Injuries piled up with key players who missed  large parts of the 2002-2003 season. The Raptors actually set a record for not being able to man a full roster of players. After the miserable season, the Raptors regrouped and selected Chris Bosh in the 2003 draft seen here screaming into the void with incandescent rage!…. Or you know, something like that…. The team hoped that Bosh might develop into a centerpiece player to build around. 

After four losing seasons, a frustrated Vince Carter was traded in 2004 to the New Jersey Nets for a couple of draft picks and several players, including Alonzo Mourning. The trade ended up being lopsided, as most of the players the Raptors received never ended up leading to any success. Alonzo Mourning actually refused to show up and play for Toronto so the team had no choice but to release him. Hey that’s what happens when you don’t show up to work, am I right?!

The next fifteen years would bring many tantalizingly close to championship seasons, while also bringing many disappointing ones.

Chris Bosh Era 2004 – 2010

Despite attempts to rebuild through the draft, the Raptors struggles continued through the mid 2000s. A low point came in early 2006, when after blowing an 18 point lead to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant single handedly scored 81 points, putting up one of the highest single game totals in NBA history.

By the start of the 2007 season, Chris Bosh had risen to become the team’s leader and face of the organization,  He helped lead the Raptors clinch a playoff spot against the New Jersey Nets.

However, Vince Carter would came back to haunt the Raptors in the series. Despite winning the first game, which was the first playoff win for the Raptors in five years, the Nets would end up winning the series in 6 games. The next season, the Raptors would return to the playoffs and once again lose in the first round to the Orlando Magic.

Before the 2009-2010 season, and recovering from the last two seasons disappointments, the Raptors made a series of roster moves in order to shake up the team. One notable addition as of Demar DeRozan, who was drafted as the ninth overall pick in 2009. With Chris Bosh about to hit free agency, the General Manager Brian Colangelo hoped to make enough changes to convince Bosh to stay for the foreseeable future. 

Those hopes would be shattered however, on July 7th 2010 Chris Bosh announced he was leaving Toronto for the Miami Heat to join his friend Dwane Wade. The very next day, on live TV LeBron James announced his decision to leave Cleveland and join the Heat as well. The super team trio of Bosh, Wade and James would go on to win back to back championships in 2012 and 2013. 

Matters would only get worse, in 2012 the team’s GM Brian Colangelo to bring a two time MVP winner Steve Nash to the club. Nash who is from Canada, turned down the offer and instead joined the Lakers. Damn you know it’s bad when you can’t even get home grown Canadians to come back and play for your team. 

With Vince Carter gone and now Bosh, and the team’s continued inability to attract talented free agents, the Raptors were left figuritivly at a cross roads as an organization. It was time to go back to the drawing board and ask themselves kind of basketball club do we want to be? And where do we go from here?

We The North Era 2011 – 2019

By 2013 the organization was looking to reset the culture around the club. The team hired the creative agency Sid Lee  to create a slogan that would showcase the team’s idenity and loyal fanbase. The phrase “We The North” was born, and has gone on to become extremely popular amongst their fans.

A part of the culture reset was hiring a new GM, Masai Ujiri who immediately set out to reshape the roster. Including releasing several players, and trading Bargnani to the Knicks.

The first season under Ujiri started out rough, going 6-12. However, after a mid season trade  with the Sacramento Kings the team turned things around and ended up finishing the season with a franchise best 48 wins. The team was lead by DeMar DeRozen who became only the fourth Raptor player at the time to make the All Star Game. 

During the playoffs, the team would once again face off against the Nets (This time the Brooklyn Nets). The series would go all the way to seven games, with Paul Pierce of the Nets blocking a potential game winner by Kyle Lowry.

The next season, The Raptors would improve on their franchise number of wins with 49 in a season. They faced the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs, but ultimatly were swept in four games. At this point the team seemed to have turned things around, with players being recognized for their play such as Lou Williams becoming the first Raptor ever to win sixth man award.

On February 14 2016, the Raptors hosted their first All Star Game

That same season, they would once again set a new franchise record with 56 wins in a season. During the first round of the playoffs the Raptors defeated the Indiana Pacers in 7 games, winning their first playoff series in 15 years. In the next round they played the Miami Heat, and in another 7 game series won to reach their first ever Conference Final. In the Eastern Conference Final, they faced Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs would defeat the Raptors in six games, and ultimately go on to win the championship.

The following season would bring another trip to the playoffs. With The Raptors beat the Milwaukee bucks in the first round, but would be be defeated for the second year in a row by the Cavaliers in four games. 

On New years day 2018, Demar Derozen scored a team record 52 points in a game verses the Bucks. DeRozen became only the third person in team history to score more than 50 points in a game. He would go on to help the Raptors set a new franchise season record with 59 wins.

In a rematch of the 2015 playoffs, the Raptors faced the Washington Wizards in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, who they would beat in six games. But yet again, you guessed it, they were eliminated for the third year in a row by the Cavs. Causing every raptor fan to wonder what would have to happen in order for them beat LeBron James and the Cavs?

Well they wouldn’t have to wait too long for an answer, because that following year Lebron left the Eastern Conference to move to Los Angeles and became a Laker. Which might have come as a shock to some, that Lebron would leave the East. But in even bigger twist awaited…

On July 18 2018, DeMar DeRozen and Jakob Pöltl were traded to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. At that time, Leonard was coming off a right quad injury and had missed most of the 2017-2018 season. Before the trade, the Spurs and Leonard had

disagreements over a time table for his return. By March of 2018, the Spurs team doctors felt that Kawhi was fit to play. However, Kawhi sought out second opinions from outside doctors and He refused to play for the rest of the season. The rift between the Spurs and Leonard never fully healed. So Rumors began to circulate that Kwahi had requested a trade and The Spurs eventually ended up trading him to Toronto. 

With Kawhi’s injuries and his pending free agency in the next year, this was a potentially dangerous trade for the Raptors to make. Trading away their already established star for an injured star with the hope that he might stick around long enough to help them win a championship. 

Kawhi did report, and he made his debut with the Raptors in their 2018-2019 season opener against the Cavaliers. The team would finish second place in the Eastern Conference with 58 wins and securing a spot in the playoffs.

After narrowly beating the 76ers in the semi finals, thanks to Kwahi Leonard’s last second game 7 winning shot. The Raptors then faced off against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. The Raptors beat the Bucks in six games to clinch their first ever appearance in the NBA Finals.

Waiting for them was a championship dynasty team in the Golden State Warriors. This was their fifth consecutive trip to the finals and they were heavily favored to win. 

After splitting the two first games of the NBA finals, the Raptors would win games 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. However, in a tightly contested game 5, the Warriors managed to win by just one point over the Raptors 106 to 105, forcing a pivotal game 6 back in Oakland. Three days later, in a back and forth game 6, the Raptors closed out the series with a 114 to 110 win upsetting and defeating the Warriors in six games. They won their first ever franchise championship with Kwahi Leonard being named Finals MVP. After 24 seasons, and so many near misses, the Toronto Raptors were finally champions of the world. 

And so that about does it for this super quick history of the Toronto Raptors!!What did you think of the DeMar DeRozen trade for Kwahi Leonard? Obviously it was a risky move that paid off for the Raptors, but would you have done anything differently? Let me know in the comments below!


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