I heard someone on sports talk radio the other day say that if the Raptors pulled out a win in these NBA Finals, fans would forget about what exactly happened to Golden State during the series—he made this supposition after Kevin Durant’s calf rolled up but before Klay Thompson’s knee buckled like a freeway in an earthquake in Game 6—and that this Toronto team’s legacy wouldn’t be tarnished by those significant extenuating circumstances. That would be nice, but I know better. I know history is ruder than that.
I know sports fans, particularly more bitter ones of my ilk, will dredge up ANY excuse to discredit a team they want to discredit, and I know that they will then engage in that discrediting forever and ever. Haters got energy to burn and only so many other things to do. So no, I don’t expect fans to forget that the Raptors triumphed last night over a debilitated Golden State team that seemed stricken all at once by the cumulative and damaging effects of playing 100-plus games for a zillion seasons in a row.
But they should. Toronto won their championship fair and square. You and I live in an age where many prominent people are either unaware of how history will judge them, or just don’t give a rat’s ass about it. This, as a rule, is bad. The Raptors are an exception. They are the only current entity that has earned the right to tell history to go fuck itself. Try telling Kawhi Leonard that his title is invalid and he’ll palm your head like it’s a ball and fire you through a basket from 17 feet away. You’ll be decapitated, your neck spilling entrails out onto the hardwood. A poor court minder will be forced to clean up your remains with one of those branded circular court buffer things. You’ll have deserved it.
Just as injured teams don’t get a free pass in pro competition, neither should the opposing team get an automatic condemnation for potentially benefiting from it, especially if that judgment comes from some football knower dropping in for a cameo take. (I’m doing that exact thing right now but it doesn’t count because I am handsome.) The Raptors were not favored to beat these Warriors, even with Kevin Durant still indefinitely sidelined at the beginning of the series. Nor were the Raptors even favored to win last night. They still did.
Save for the occasional Nick Nurse brainfart, or Kyle Lowry embarking on a freelance dribbling odyssey into and out of and around the paint at least once a half, Toronto was the better team throughout the bulk of the Finals. In fact, they were so consistently better than the Warriors that their status as underdogs came to feel intensely fucking stupid as the series ground onward. They were so much better than Golden State that people actually began to feel SYMPATHY for the Warriors. And not just injury-wise, either, I’m talking sympathy for them in general, and how their resilience through multiple lightning strikes ultimately went unrewarded.
I say fuck all that. I have no sympathy for Golden State, nor for the fans of theirs who went into full Boston Mode the second KD snapped his Achilles. I feel nothing for for their trophy-humping owner, nor for Steph, nor for Steph’s stupid golf show, nor for simpering penis Kevin Draper, nor for Draymond, whose body spasms and WHAAAAA?! faces always increase in direct correlation with how desperate his team is. Fuck all of them. That team didn’t deserve to have these Finals be all about them.
But the Raptors did. The NBA is so historically top-heavy that you almost need a second title in order to validate the first. But if these Raptors go the way of the Dallas Mavericks or the Cleveland Cavaliers and fail to add a second overpriced replica O’Brien Trophy to their luxury box concourse display case, that’s all right. Here’s a title that deserves to stand on its own.
This wasn’t just good luck. Not every team would have been able to take advantage of Golden State’s misfortune the way the Raptors did. Not only did Toronto secure the first NBA title for an entire nation, finally establishing David Stern’s initially misbegotten ventures north of the border as legitimate, but they did it by putting the Warriors in a rear naked choke and leaving them flailing. They won every road game they played at the Warriors’ soon-to-be-abandoned dump of an arena. They forced Golden State’s best players to either take contested shots or dish the ball over to Quinn Cook, or some other member of a rogue’s gallery of stuntmen polluting the depths of that team’s roster, for an open shot destined to clang off the rim.
The Raptors gave Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard all the support he needed when he wasn’t quite playing like the Finals MVP—last night, Kawhi had a double-clutch move that was so breathtaking it was a divine injustice that the ball didn’t go in—which spared everyone the LeBron-has-to-carry-eleven-bags-of-gravel-on-his-back dynamic of previous title matchups. Kyle Lowry sometimes lapses into the antics of an NCAA tournament player sent out onto the floor to take a last-second shot without a designed play in mind, but in this series he also frequently proved himself to be a shooting overlord and a fearless lane invader. The latter is also true of the delightfully named Fred VanVleet, who straight-up made more vital three-pointers than Curry did and usurped Jean Van de Velde as the preeminent Double-V in sports lore. And then there was third-year utility big and pocket ace Pascal Siakam, a burgeoning stud who will nail a shot against you while you’re still wondering how he nailed his LAST shot. These Raptors dispatched Golden State in six games for a reason. They were, as a group, just as unflappable and unguardable as their MVP was.
You can append any conditions to the Raptors’ title that you please, but you’ll be a dipshit for doing so. They deserved this, and they definitely didn’t deserve to get blueballed at the end by a needless foul call that put their impending celebration on hold for 897 minutes. This season started out looking like yet another NBA campaign in which all the regular season jockeying and trade speculation and pithy Instagrams would be exposed as a waste of time: a lengthy preamble to another inevitable Warriors title. The Raptors had no interest in abiding by that itinerary. They wanted to beat the piss out of everyone, and they did it. You don’t get an asterisk for that. You get a parade.