Raptors going global
OAKLAND, Calif. — The Canadian flag, soaked in beer and champagne, was waved in the Toronto locker room. Pascal Siakam wore the flag of Cameroon around his shoulders. Marc Gasol was yelling some happy phrase in Spanish.
Every team that wins an NBA title calls itself “world champions.”
These Toronto Raptors might actually be worthy of the moniker.
The new kings of the NBA are the first outside the U.S. to wear the crown. And they come from all corners of the globe.
Team President Masai Ujiri was born in England and raised in Nigeria. Serge Ibaka is from the Congo. Gasol will play again for his native Spain this summer in the FIBA World Cup. Coach Nick Nurse won his first championship in Britain, where reserve OG Anunoby comes from. Even the team’s superfan, Nav Bhatia, comes from India.
It’s a global game.
It’s a global team.
They’re the global champions.
“It meant a lot, just having guys from different countries and speaking different languages,” Siakam said. “I think it kind of got us closer together. And you kind of have all those little kinds of friendship with guys that you can speak the same language with, and from Spanish to French to English, different cultures. I think kind of it represents Toronto in general, having that diversity.”
He doesn’t even have the whole list.
Jeremy Lin, an Asian American, speaks Mandarin. The assistants on Nurse’s staff have backgrounds from stints as players or coaches in France, England, Germany, Italy, Australia, Israel and more. The director of sports science is Scottish. The head trainer is from Ontario. Jamaal Magloire, who has been on the staff since his playing days ended, is a Toronto native.
“It means a lot,” Magloire said as he watched champagne spray all over the locker room. “Canada and Toronto especially are very diverse places. And this team, all the diversity that we have, it served us well.”
There’s a parade — Ujiri said it was scheduled for Monday, though he also wasn’t exactly certain at the time — coming to Toronto. The red and white flag with the giant maple leaf will wave. There will be plenty of other flags there as well. And more than a few proud Americans will be on that route as well, like NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the longest-tenured Raptors player, Kyle Lowry.
“I’m very happy for them,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, tipping his cap to the Raptors. “Winning a championship is the ultimate in this league, and they have got a lot of guys who have earned this. So congrats to Toronto, to their organization, to their fans. They are a worthy champion.”
At NBA headquarters in New York, they truly didn’t care who won the series.
That doesn’t mean they don’t realize the Raptors’ title is a good thing for the league’s future.
Basketball Without Borders is the vehicle that basically helped Siakam start his journey to the league seven or so years ago. There are NBA academies popping up in Africa and Asia. The league is helping to establish a new pro league in Africa that’s set to begin play early next year. The sport takes every opportunity it gets to promote what it bills as the Jr. NBA Global Championship, a tournament for kids.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said before the series that the league is aware of 700 million cellphones being in use in Africa, more than half of those being smartphones. The NBA wants people watching on those phones, and the infrastructure is such now in many places that it is actually possible.
“It’s been revolutionary in terms of the people of Africa’s ability to watch our games in real time on hand-held devices,” Silver said. “So we see enormous growth opportunities both in terms of players and for participation and ultimately an interest for the league.”
Having champions from Cameroon and the Congo, having the executive who gets credited for putting it all together being from Nigeria, it’s not going to hurt the game in Africa one bit.
The NBA champions are, indeed, champions of the world.
“As a kid, I didn’t have the opportunity to dream about this moment,” Siakam said. “I didn’t think I could make it. I didn’t think this was possible as a kid. And I think a lot of kids don’t think that it’s possible. Just me being able to be here today and telling them that, ‘Hey, look at me, I was a little scrawny kid from Cameroon … but here I am, as a champion.”