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Raptors’ success has impact on local basketball scene

By Alex Mahar [1]

Belleville– Sports is all about moments, moments that define a player, a game, a franchise or even a county. On Saturday night in Toronto, the Raptors gave Canada one of these moments. And that moment was felt here in the Quinte region.

“I mean look at all the people who were outside of the Scotiabank Arena for Game 6. It’s great for Canada and will inspire the future of Canadian basketball,” said Brian Nicol, a longtime Raptors fan who played basketball in both high school and college in the area.

Nicol adds, “Canada is a hockey country and that might never change but now local kids have a team to cheer for and that will have an impact on the culture of basketball in our country and in our community. People who never use to watch basketball are giving each other high fives and celebrating. It’s cool to see.”

With the Raptors on the verge of making their first ever NBA final appearance Nicol says, “We are going to see the impact both locally and nationally of the success of the Raptors. More people are watching and it’s great for the sport, the country and the next generation of Canadian basketball”. Photo by Brian Nicol

Basketball in Canada has a long history, going back to James Naismith. But the Raptor version started in 1995 [2] with a purple dinosaur finding a home north of the border. Since then, there’s been Vince Carter [3], Tracy McGrady [4], Chris Bosh [5] and DeMar DeRozan [6]. Now Toronto has Kawhi Leonard [7], the first Raptor superstar to take the team this close to the promise land.

“I was working with kids last week, boys in grades 1, 2 and 3 and I was wondering what they were doing. Then I realized they were actually imitating the game-winning shot Kawhi Leonard made against Philly where he squatted down and watched it go in,” said Mike Kirby, president of the Belleville Spirit basketball club.

“I thought that was pretty amazing. These kids are 7 or 8 years old and that’s a moment they will never forget.”

These Raptors weren’t done there. “The shot” by Leonard lifted the Raps into the Eastern Conference Final against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Toronto lost games one and two, but battled back to win four straight and punch their long-awaited ticket to the NBA finals, the first in the franchise’s 24-year existence.

“Canadian basketball is tremendous at the moment. There’s Canadians in the NBA, on the international level and in division 1 U.S., programs. That influence will trickle down locally and the with the success of the Raptors that will only help grow the game of basketball,” said Kirby.

“We have noticed an increase in the Spirits girls program, we had nine rep teams this season, that beat last year’s record of seven teams and the game is continuing to grow locally. We just launched a little NBA program and have seen growth in our house league program as well.”

Mike Kirby, president of the Belleville Spirits basketball club has been working with the spirits for 30-years. Kirby says he hopes that the sport will continue to rise locally with the success of the Toronto Raptors. Photo by Belleville Spirits facebook page

Kirby said he hopes basketball will one-day rival hockey in Canada.

“With the crowds at games in Toronto, we are getting closer than we ever have.”

On Thursday night in Toronto, people from Belleville, Canada and across the world will experience a moment that could affect the next generation of Canadian basketball. The Toronto Raptors are finally NBA finalists.