In any kind of fan-based medium, there are always different entry points into the particular obsession. Star Trek fans usually got into the whole series with either the original or the Next Generation series. Blue Jays fans largely got into the sport during the teams magnificent runs in the late 80’s leading up to the World Series championship. A whole new generation of Leafs fans started enjoying hockey when Doug Gilmour led the buds against the LA Kings so many years ago.
How about the Raptors?
The vast majority of fans got into the sport during the Vince Carter era. His exciting dunks, along with the incredible athleticism of his cousin T-Mac, and the wild antics of one Charles Oakley aroused the curiosity of a city to the wonderful sport of basketball. In subsequent years, that interest would dwindle due to a lack of success, but I remember getting people to watch basketball in University. I wasn’t alone when I saw Vince Carter pull off his dunks at that faithful All Star Game, and definitely converted more than a few to the Raptors’ purple during those years.
However, the times have changed. The Raptors are now red, the west wing is undergoing major construction and Chris Bosh has become the face of the franchise. Season ticket renewals are up but many would have you believe that basketball’s growth in this country is stagnant. TV viewership has been consistent, but unspectacular, and those in the Leafs nation frequently tend to point out that basketball is just a niche sport. However, like the years I spent in University, people don’t seem to understand where the majority of growth is – with the youth of Canada.
Nevertheless, people like Craig Wilson have become recent converts. Craig, a 25-year old graduate student at McMaster University, recently discovered the joys of being a Raptors fan.
“I only really started following the team a third of the way through the season, when Chris Bosh came down with his injury and the team had to play through it,” Craig told me in a recent interview. “I missed the 2-8 start, but overall I thought the team did extremely well.”
Craig, a native of Oakville, hasn’t had an easy time being a Raptors fan in a surrounding suburb.
“My circle of friends in Oakville isn’t really too keen on basketball” he lamented. “Some are better than others, but at best, it’s not something the population at large takes a large interest in. Even my Dad doesn’t like the game.”
His experience is far from uncommon. Although a lot of youth are starting to open up to the game, the older generation seldom gets excited. Many of them grew up in the golden days of the Hockey era, so they can be forgiven for their enthusiasm for the #1 sport in the country. However, like any kind of fanbase, it usually takes time for individuals to find each other and become a mob.
“I did go to a Raptors game back in my first year of undergrad, so 2000/2001,” Craig recalled. “One of my friends at the time was a fan, so we went. I wasn’t terribly impressed then, to be honest. I did follow them a bit during the Vince era, when they had their first playoff runs.”
Craig didn’t turn into a true fan until he reached college. Thanks to the influence of some of his Toronto friends, he became a more frequent basketball fan. From there, be went on to try and get other others into basketball, but was often met with resistance.
His friends often would talk about how the game “lacked defense” or how “scoring doesn’t matter”, and how “scoring only matters in the last minutes of the game,” although Craig has found other ways to entice some of his other friends into the game.
Craig told me, “The team plays a style that’s conducive, I think, to bringing in non-basketball fans; fast, and offense-oriented.”
And if all else fails?
“Use the attractive Italian parts of the team to woo potential female Italian fans,” laughs Craig.