Basketball in Canada is often overlooked. Many individuals forget that origins of the sport tie deep into Canada. However, some are totally oblivious to just how deep basketball roots run in Canada. It was December of 1891 when physical instructor, Canadian James Naismith invented the game. It was initially meant to keep track athletes in shape. Fast forward 125 years, and basketball is one of the most popular and profitable sports on earth. While there’s no arguing the success that basketball has had in the US as well as in Europe – basketball in Canada is still a project. The last few years especially has shown an influx of Canadian talent at all levels – making waves from high school to the pros, therefore leaving many reasons to be optimistic about basketball’s future in Canada.
The Toronto Raptors – established in 1995, was one of 2 teams that took part in the NBA’s expansion into Canada. The Vancouver Grizzlies were moved to Memphis in 2001. This left Canada with only one club. From 2004 to 2012, the club had its fair share of struggles with limited success. When the Raptors had Chris Bosh, it seemed as though they just couldn’t put the right pieces around him. After his contract expired, CB bolted for Miami, and you know the rest. However, Toronto has experienced success under the leadership of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The determination of these 2 contribute to the Toronto Raptors success, which in turn has continued to grow interest in Canada’s team.
It was the 1998 NBA draft when the Raptors selected Antawn Jamison. They swapped him almost immediately for some cash and Vince Carter. During his time in Toronto, Vinsanity experienced a lot of success. The list includes the 1999 NBA Rookie of the Year, 5 All-Star selections, 2 All-NBA team selections and champion of the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. He also lead the Raps to the franchise’s only series victory back in 2001 over the New York Knicks. Many individuals among the league and fans across the world believe Carter is one of the greatest dunkers in league history. As a person that grew up watching Vince on a regular basis, I can definitely attest to the notion that many kids, at least those in Canada, wanted to be like Vince, instead of like Mike. Without Vince Carter, the success that the Toronto Raptors have achieved thus far, would not be possible. Although, the divorce between Vince and the team was ugly, there is no doubt Vinsanity made his mark on the franchise and the country.
It’s impossible to talk about the recent success of Canadian basketball without bringing up the first true Canadian Superstar, Mr. Steve Nash. Nash, also known as Captain Canada, is the most accomplished Canadian basketball player to date. Highly regarded as one of the greatest shooters ever, Nash has an incredible resume. This includes 2 MVP awards, 8 All-Star selections, 7 All-NBA teams (3 of which are for the first team), 2-time winner of the NBA Skills Challenge, 5-time assists leader and a member of the prestigious 50-40-90 club. However, Nash’s accomplishments also speak volumes about the contributions he has made to make the sport of basketball relevant in Canada. Nash is well known for his efforts made off the court too. On May 8, 2012, Nash was named General Manager of the Canadian Senior basketball team. Staying true to his Canadian roots, he hired Canadian Jay Triano to coach the team.
Moving on from the past contributions, there are no shortage of reasons for Canadians to be optimistic about basketballs future in the nation. The influx of talented Canadian basketball players is astonishing as of recent years. NBA Opening Night featured 12 Canadians on rosters. This might seem like a small sample but I preach patience, my friends. Not only is there notable Canadian flavour in the pros but also in international competition. The Men’s National team had their best finish in Pan Am Games history, earning a Silver medal. The team also earned a Bronze medal in the 2015 FIBA America’s Championship. I will definitely look forward to following the careers of guys like Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson to name a few. These are the guys that grew up with the generation that watched Vinsanity and Captain Canada.
Since his days in high school, scouts raved about Andrew Wiggins’ superstar potential. After an impressive showing after one year at the University of Kansas, Wiggins decided to forgo the remaining 3 years of college ball and declare for the 2014 NBA Draft where he was viewed as a top 3 pick. After being selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wiggins was quickly flipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. However, Wiggins is in a better position with Minnesota and without a doubt, the future face of the Timberwolves franchise and team Canada. Tristan Thompson was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft also by the Cavs. It was only during the 2015 NBA Finals that he showed his worth to the team. Both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love went down leaving TT to play the Robin to LeBron‘s Batman. Thompson’s per-game averages for the finals include 10 points, 13 rebounds and a block. That showing helped him earn a 5-year, $80 million contract with the Cavaliers. Cory Joseph was the 29th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. He benefited from learning the ways of legendary coach Gregg Popovich and playing with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Known for his on-ball pressure and perimeter defense, CoJo decided to come home for a 4-year, $30 million contract signed this past summer. Another Canadian that currently plays for his hometown is Anthony Bennett. The #1 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft spent consecutive years with the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves, both of which were viewed as disappointing seasons. After being bought-out by Minnesota, Bennett signed with the Raps and is viewed by Masai Ujiri as a “long-term project.” All these players are major keys to Canada presenting a challenge to the international elites such as America, Spain and France.
There is definitely a promising outlook on the future of basketball in Canada due to the past and the present. There’s no doubt the Toronto Raptors and Canada Basketball have been overlooked. However, the rough patch is behind us and now it’s a matter of when, not if, Canada will take the international competition by storm.