One solid way to kick off the week is to spend Monday morning watching Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly announce that May 12, 2014 is Raptors Day.
Joining Kelly at Nathan Phillips Square were Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and point guard Greivis Vasquez. While Kelly presented the team with an official proclamation, the team presented Kelly with a personalized Raptors jersey. Kelly didn’t waste any time taking off his suit jacket to put it on.
“It’s big time,” Vasquez said. “It shows how much we meant to the city, to the people in this city and the people in this country. We’re excited and we look forward to next year.”
Defying preseason projections and shattering expectations, the 2013-2014 Raptors captured an Atlantic Division title on their way to a franchise-record 48 wins and earning home-court advantage for the postseason. In their first trip to the playoffs since 2008, the Raptors battled the Brooklyn Nets in a seven-game series that went to the final seconds before Brooklyn escaped with a one-point victory.
The playoff run ignited the city and galvanized the team’s fan base. In addition to a sold-out arena throughout the series, the organization hosted a party in Maple Leaf Square that grew by the game. Through rain and shine, home games and away, thousands of fans packed the square to cheer on their team. During Toronto’s road games in Brooklyn, a live feed of the crowd was shown in the team’s locker room.
With Kelly pointing out how the team has inspired the city and country, Vasquez continued to express his passion for the place he has called his second home since being traded here in December.
“I’ve fallen in love with the city,” Vasquez said. “I really embrace and I am committed to the city and the fans. I’m not taking this for granted. I’m saying it because I mean it. I think we have the best fans in the NBA and that’s motivation, that’s inspiration right there to get better and do better. I know a lot of us celebrating because we had a great season, but we’re not. We’re not satisfied. We want more, we want to bring the excitement to the city and next year we have to be more hungry and more ambitious.”
Inside the offices of city hall, Kelly and Vasquez shared high school basketball stories and posed with the OVO-branded lint rollers that the team gave out to fans after Drake, the Raptors global ambassador, was seen lint-rolling his pants while sitting courtside during Game 2.
Vasquez addressed the crowd on hand for the announcement and called Casey the best coach in the league. When Casey spoke to reporters after the event, he praised the surprising success his team had while looking toward the future.
“It’s just, I think an honour for the team, recognition of the team for what they’ve done, how far they’ve grown, and still in the process of growing,” Casey said. “Everyone’s disappointed with not finishing out the seventh game, but again, we should be proud of winning the division, finishing third in a year that was a year of growth. And it still is, we’re still growing. I think that’s what the day is about: growth, working hard to get there and the city showing appreciation for that.”
Throughout the postseason, the team praised the fan base for their love and support. A full week after Game 7, with time to reflect on the whirlwind of their first-round series with the Nets, the scene at Air Canada Centre only became more impressive to players and coaches alike.
“It’s unbelievable,” Casey said. “The fans have had, that they did have throughout the series. And I’m watching these other playoff series; there’s no arena that was as loud as our arena or as intimidating as our arena. I don’t care what they say. When Deron Williams shot that last free throw and missed, the building was shaking. And that is a home-court advantage.
“That’s what we’re trying to build, we want to continue to earn that respect, that passion from our fans. And the only way you do that is work hard, play hard each and every night, win and put ourselves in that position again. And that way you maintain that passion and bring it back next year.”