Of course, the Raptors had to wait.
The final second of Game 6 of the NBA Finals took nearly seven minutes. This was never going to be easy for Toronto.
But when the game finally ended – 114-110 with the Raptors as NBA champions – it was oh so satisfying.
Toronto was built boldly then played boldly, upsetting the heavily favored Warriors and gaining validation.
Masai Ujiri upended a successful team in pursuit of something better. Don’t let the payoff totally obscure the risk. Disrupting the best era in franchise history for an injured star was always a real gamble.
Kawhi Leonard requested a trade from the Spurs, who are widely viewed as the NBA’s model organization. He couldn’t control where they sent him. He just knew he’d be better off elsewhere. Now, Leonard joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bucks and Lakers) and LeBron James (Heat and Cavaliers) as the only players to win Finals MVP with multiple teams.
Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol have thrown everything into becoming the best players and teammates they could be. But they still toiled for years – Lowry in Toronto, Gasol in Memphis – trying to get over the hump with team success. Now, Lowry (13th season) and Gasol (11th season) join a short list of multi-time All-Stars who waited so long to win their first title but got it while still starting.*
*Jason Kidd (2011 Mavericks, 17th season), Dirk Nowitzki (2011 Mavericks, 13th season), Shawn Marion (2011 Mavericks, 12th season), Kevin Garnett (2008 Celtics, 13th season), Ray Allen (2008 Celtics, 12th season), Michael Finley (2007 Spurs, 12th season), Glen Rice (2000 Lakers, 11th season), Clyde Drexler (1995 Rockets, 12th season), Jerry West (1972 Lakers, 12th season), Oscar Robertson (1971 Bucks, 11th season)
Pascal Siakam took to basketball just eight years ago, committing to the sport to honor his late father. He rose from Basketball Without Borders in Africa to New Mexico State to an NBA bench role to likely winning Most Improved Player this season. On the biggest stage, he put his stamp on this series.
Serge Ibaka cares about his standing within the league. Don’t get him started on how many times he has been snubbed for a defensive award. But he accepted a reserve role this season and just focused on doing his job well. He still still found multiple times to come up big in the Finals.
As an undrafted free agent, Fred VanVleet chose a team with three point guards – Lowry, Cory Joseph and Delon Wright – with guaranteed salaries. Most teams kept only three points guards at that time. VanVleet believed in himself and gradually earned a role in Toronto. He hit so many big shots in this series and scored 22 in the Game 6 clincher.
Nick Nurse coached at one basketball outpost after another. He shuffled between Great Britain, Belgium, small college, U.S. minor leagues. It wasn’t always a glamorous life. Eventually, he got his shot coaching the Raptors and pushed so many right buttons in the Finals.
Twenty-four years ago, the NBA put two expansion franchises in Canada. The Grizzlies left Vancouver just six years later for Memphis. The Raptors remained in Toronto. They remained through losing seasons. They remained as star after star left. They remained as the team got just good enough to get heartbroken annually in the playoffs.
They remained for this.