It seems like common knowledge at this point that Kyle Lowry is the Greatest Raptor Of All-Time. As I write this with mere hours left on the clock until the free agency floodgates open and Lowry is officially a member of the Miami Heat, let’s recap why Lowry is undisputedly going to be the first to have his jersey retired at Scotiabank Arena.
Lowry’s not the most electrifying player in franchise history, nor is he the most dominant. He didn’t put up the greatest box score numbers donning the red and white, and he didn’t accumulate the most accolades either. He’s not even the greatest because of the monumental role that he played in bringing a championship to Canada; despite the fact that it will have ripple effects for generations to come and change the face of Canadian basketball forever.
The reason why Lowry is the G.R.O.A.T. is because he was the first star player who wore the Raptors jersey with pride. Before Kyle Lowry arrived, Toronto was a hockey town. Heck, the Raptors even came second place to the Blue Jays in their own city. The Raptors were a laughing stock stuck in the perpetual cycle of being bad; getting a high draft pick; developing a star; and having them leave in free agency. There was a notion around the league that stars simply don’t want to play in Canada: that it’s too cold, and it’s too foreign. Kyle Lowry came to Toronto with a vision of changing the culture, winning games, and embracing this cold, outcast city as his own – regardless of those narratives.
In Lowry’s introduction media scrum on July 17th, 2012, Eric Koreen asked what type of team the Raptors would be in the upcoming season, to which Kyle responded, “We’re gonna be a good team. We’re gonna be a playoff team.” Those words gave the feeling of taking off a ripped old shoe and trying on the new Jordan 1’s. It was refreshing, surreal, and it sparked some hope that the stroll down this path which the Raptors were about to embark on could bear some fruit. Still, there was a sense of doubt. The Raptors had just come off a 27-45 season, and Lowry was being traded to his third team in five years. He was expected to come off the bench for franchise point guard, Jose Calderon, and he hadn’t shown the ability to impact winning at such an elite level during the first seven years of his career. Could he actually take this bottom-of-the-barrel Raptors squad to the playoffs? The odds were stacked against him, but as we’ve come to know, that’s nothing new for Kyle Lowry.
After a turbulent 2012-2013 season, the Raptors traded for Rudy Gay. Months later, traded away Rudy Gay to Sacramento for bench pieces including Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson.
That trade – which many viewed as an attempt by newly-hired general manager, Masai Ujiri, to tank for Andrew Wiggins – ended up turning around the fortunes of the franchise, and kickstarted the “We The North” era.
The 2013-2014 Raptors had a level of depth that was relatively unmatched by opponents around the league. After a slow start to the season, the Gay trade was the beginning of Toronto’s Cinderella story. Led by Kyle and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors nearly took down a juggernaut team featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez in the 2014 playoffs. Despite Lowry missing a Game 7 series winner to send the Raptors to the second round, it was a miss that added to his legacy.
Rather than walking away that summer as an unrestricted free agent – as virtually any other Raptors star would have – Kyle stayed. He re-signed on a four-year, $48M contract, and he revamped what it meant to play for the Raptors. Following in his footsteps were the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet. If Kyle didn’t stay – if he didn’t change the culture around what it meant to play in Toronto – then who knows where the team would have stood today?
All in all, Kyle’s a leader. He makes bad teams good, and good teams great, and it’s what we’ve seen him do for his entire career, but that’s not what makes him the greatest Raptor ever. Kyle Lowry changed what it meant to play basketball in Canada; to rep basketball in Canada; and to be a Toronto Raptor. Even though Kyle Lowry is no longer a Raptor, he’ll always be the Greatest Raptor Of All-Time. There’s no accolade, award, or slew of NBA championships that anybody could bring to this city that would ever put their name above his.
The 2021-2022 NBA season is slated to begin on October 19th. Once the schedule drops, keep that red pen handy to mark down the date that Lowry returns to Toronto donning a Heat uniform, and make sure to place your bets on FanDuel that the G.R.O.A.T. is going to do what he’s always done.