Toronto’s Major League Let-Downs
Across North America, sports franchises become fundamental parts of many cities and can become synonymous with a city’s identity. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is home to the Steelers and the Penguins, both of whom command the city’s attention, while places like Boston, Massachusetts have relied on successful Celtics and New England Patriots runs to power sports league fever.
However, the city of Toronto, Canada has never quite been able to hold on to any kind of major league winning streak. From their MLS team, Toronto FC, to their MLB team, the Blue Jays, to their NHL team, the Maple Leafs, the city has had to wait a long time for a franchise to make waves in their respective leagues. Their NFL team, the Argonauts, are their most impressive team, though they compete in a national football league rather than the American NFL.
In particular, the United States considers basketball an American sport, and many Canadians may have been apt to agree prior to the Toronto Raptors 2019 NBA title win. After all, between 2010 and 2013, the team went 79-151. However, the Raptors are ranked second in the Eastern Conference in the 2020 season, and fans have a reason to bet on NBA games now that their team competes at a high level despite the loss of star player Kawhi Leonard, who now plays for the LA Clippers.
Rise of the Raptors
Though hockey is often considered the mainstay of Canadian sports, basketball has become more and more popular, especially in urban centers such as Toronto. Unfortunately for fans and prospective players, it wasn’t until 2013 that the Toronto Raptors, begun in 1995, gave fans a team to fight for.
Much of the team’s turnaround comes from Masai Ujiri taking over as president of operations for the club. As a former basketball pro himself, Ujiri led the way to stardom by fostering a dynamic defense in players Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The team went on to take division titles from 2014 to the present day, except for 2017.
The Raptor’s 2018 play was something to be remembered, quickly coming in as the franchise’s greatest season on record. Despite their impressive momentum, the Raptors were stopped in the playoffs and their most hopeful season to date was cut short.
Ujiri didn’t balk. He dismissed head coach and spearheaded a risky trade of DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. Along with players Danny Green and Marc Gasol, Leonard would go on to lead the Raptors through another killer season. However, there would be no stopping the 2019 Raptors, and not only did they take their first Eastern Conference title, but their first NBA championship as well.
Although the final game was played in Oakland, California (home of opponents the Golden State Warriors), the streets of Toronto erupted with celebrations. Not only had the final showdown broke records for most viewership in Canada with 8 million viewers, but it also became the most-watched NBA game in Canadian history.
Basketball Isn’t All
Ujiri’s takeover of the Raptors franchise in 2013 saw a turnaround for the NBA team, but this wasn’t the only sports team in Toronto taking control of its future. In 2016, Toronto FC took to the soccer pitch with enthusiasm, but lost in the MLS final to the Seattle Sounders.
However, in 2017, the team picked up where they left off. Not only did Toronto FC manage to set a new record for the most MLS points scored in one season with 69 points, they also managed to win become the first Canadian team to ever win the MLS cup. Though the team lost another finals match to the Seattle Sounders in 2019, the team remains a strong presence in the city and one of the MLS’s most successful franchises alongside Atlanta FC.
The NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs have also shown a promising comeback. Though the team is no stranger to the highest tier of hockey play, it’s been over half a century since they took a Stanley Cup. Like Ujiri, new president Brendan Shanahan was able to breathe life into the franchise. Though the team doesn’t seem poised to take a Stanley Cup any time soon, since 2016 they’ve climbed in division rankings and made consistent playoff appearances.
Now, sports lovers in Toronto are waiting on the Blue Jays to begin their comeback.