June 13th, 2019, is a date that when mentioned, will jerk tears for any Canadian basketball fan. It’s more than the date that our favourite basketball team was just another NBA Champion. It was the culmination of an underdog rising above all of the times that they had been chewed up and spit out. It was a team whom nobody thought would find success making it to the pinnacle of the sports world. It was a team who’s decisions were constantly questioned, able to stand proud of their history. It was more than basketball. It was a dream come true.
Canada’s overlooked dinos lead by Kawhi Leonard were one win away from clinching the Toronto Raptors’ first-ever championship that morning of June 13th, but one would be foolish to have thought Leonard could make it all that way alone. Throughout the entire playoffs, the Toronto Raptors relied on their defensive versatility. Several guys were put in situations where they had to hit big shots, and some genius gameplanning from the 2020 Coach of the Year frontrunner, Nick Nurse, certainly played its role too.
Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, which would become the last basketball game ever in San Francisco’s Oracle Arena, and the last game in which one of the most dynastic teams in NBA history remained intact had finally tipped off and was underway.
Canadians and sports fans around the world – whether you were a Warriors fan, a Raptors fan, a basketball fan, or none of the above – intently glared on as the game clock ticked down in the fourth quarter. Grandparents and beloved pets with no affiliation to the Raptors sat in awe with us, understanding that they would be witnessing one of the most cultivating stories in the history of sports.
People thousands of miles away from the action crouched in their living room with their hearts beating out of their chest, while the players and coaches in Oracle Arena remained calm. There were nine minutes and five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Raptors trailed by three points. Rockford Illinois’ finest, Fred VanVleet, was guarded by two-time NBA MVP, Stephen Curry, with five seconds left on the shot clock. VanVleet called for a screen from Marc Gasol, he lost his primary defender, and hoisted an off balance three-pointer over DeMarcus Cousins. As the ball soared through the air, Curry clapped his hands in frustration knowing how deadly a shooter VanVleet is. Pascal Siakam began jolting back to the defensive end. Onlookers paid no attention to their trembling limbs or the popcorn they knocked over as they rose out of their seats.
Swish. Tie game.
That was just two minutes before VanVleet would be looked to again to bail the Raptors out at the bottom of the shot clock and put them up one, after hitting another heavily contested three-pointer over Curry.
The, came the moment where the third year undrafted guard out of Wichita State cemented his name in sports history. With less than four minutes to go, he dribbled the ball at the logo, guarded by Quinn Cook. Freddy called for a brush-screen from his good pal, Siakam. Freddy stopped on a dime at the three point line, faking a pass to the rolling Siakam, which turned Quinn Cook around a full-360, and leaving VanVleet wide-open.
Warriors fans knew what was coming. Raptors fans knew what was coming. Fred VanVleet knew what was coming. He bet on himself, he let one of the most faithful shots in Toronto Raptors history fly, and he banged yet another tribeca from the top of the arc. Fred VanVleet became immortalized among Canadian sports icons. Words can’t do this shot, or his subsequent scream justice. Just watch the video yourself:
BET ON YOURSELF! pic.twitter.com/7klN1G9FwO
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 14, 2019
If one had only watched this game, they might think that Fred VanVleet, not Kawhi Leonard, deserved Finals MVP honours. Even having watched the entire Finals, one of eleven vote-getters still thought that the 6th man point guard deserved the award, but the playoffs in their entirety were far from a spectacle for VanVleet.
In the Raptors second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, VanVleet made a total of three shots on 24 shot attempts, and scored a total of 14 points throughout seven games. For reference, this season VanVleet is averaging 17.6 points per game. Already without OG Anunoby due to his emergency appendectomy, Nick Nurse was frustrated with a shallow bench, and was now being forced to put Freddy on a tight leash if the team wanted any hope of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. Ultimately Freddy’s poor play led to him playing just over 17 minutes per contest, which was 10 fewer than his regular season average.
That subpar play lasted until the enobled birth of Frederick VanVleet Jr. on May 20th, 2019, one day after Fred Sr.’s deplorable 1/11 shooting performance in Game 2 against the Bucks. From that point on, the Raptors newborn good luck charm ignited a fire in Freddy’s soul, which helped the Raptors to three straight wins against Milwaukee, and an eventual triumphant 4-2 victory over Golden State.
After ten consecutive unacceptable performances, VanVleet bounced back at the perfect time. As Jack Armstrong says, there’s a clutch gene, and you either have it, or you don’t. Fred VanVleet has it.
Over those final nine games in the championship run, VanVleet increased his scoring output to 14.7 points per game, and shot the ball much better at an efficient 51.1%, all throughout a significant 32.3 minutes per contest – an output that any team with a pick in the 2016 NBA Draft would have loved to garner.
For Fred VanVleet’s entire life, he’s been an underdog. Even after being a standout player at Rockford’s Auburn High School and subsequently leading the Wichita State Shockers to a Final Four appearance in 2013, he was told that he would never make it to the NBA. It’s about time we give VanVleet the appreciation he deserves, and what better time than his birthday week?
Now, as an NBA Champion who just recently turned 26 years old, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is releasing Fred VanVleet’s first-ever officially licensed limited-edition bobbleheads. The figures are produced by FOCO – a leading manufacturer of sports and entertainment merchandise celebrating over 20 years in the industry, and an official licensee and manufacturer of Toronto Raptors and NBA merchandise.
As a part of the release, there will be two different types of bobbleheads available; those being the Throwback Jersey Baller bobblehead, which retails for $35 (plus shipping), and the Mini 2019 NBA Champions bobblehead, which retails for $15 (plus shipping).
“As a Rockford native, I’m extremely proud of everything that Fred has accomplished both on and off the court,” National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar said. “From going undrafted to postseason hero and NBA champion, Fred’s story is an inspirational one and bobbleheads are the perfect way for fans to celebrate all of Fred’s success.”