I keep wondering why the city of Toronto, Ontario has such a largely unsuccessful professional sports largesse. There's those 13 Stanley Cup titles won by the NHL's Maple Leafs, of course, but they're past a point where they hold any real meaning in bar talks - that thirteenth title came in 1967, the year before the NHL expanded and doubled its size from the Original Six to twelve teams. Their MLB team, the Blue Jays, won a pair of World Series titles back to back, but since then they've had trouble competing for their own division title and its been forever since they've made the playoffs. You'd think Toronto would have a lot more success, because it's effectively the Canadian version of New York City, and it has all of the attractions, nightlife, and safety to suit the tastes of any persuasion. They shouldn't have any trouble attracting free agents based on their city alone.
Toronto has a history with the NBA, and it goes back further than you would first expect. When the league was formed, the majority of the folks who owned teams in it had stakes in the NHL, and they wanted people to fill in their arenas' empty seats while the hockey players sat at their huge summer homes in British Columbia. (Actually, while they worked in the offseason. This was the olden days.) The Toronto Huskies were one of the league's original teams. They lasted only that single season in 1946-1947, went 22-38, and they had the distinction of losing the first-ever NBA game to the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) by a score of 68-66. Their leading scorer was a guy named Mike McCarron, who posted 649 points in 60 games. Ed Sadowski had the highest points-per-game average, with 19.1. Although the Huskies died after that lone season, there is a group of basketball fans in Toronto who want to abolish the name of the Toronto Raptors and bring back the name and colors of the original Toronto Huskies. The name makes a lot more sense, so I guess I'm in agreement with them. They have a website at TorontoHuskies.org.
The current team, the Toronto Raptors, was awarded to Toronto in 1993. They were part of the Canadian expansion from that year, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have since moved to Memphis, and so the Raptors are now the only NBA team in Canada. Originally the plan was to bring back the Huskies nickname in the first place, but management apparently lacked anything remotely resembling an imagination. Their excuse for not using the Huskies nickname was that there was no way they could design a logo which looked like it was ripping off the logo of the Minnesota Timberwolves. So the Raptors name was decided by a nationwide contest, including, presumably, Vancouver. Of the ten final prospects, apparently Canadians favored Raptors over the following names: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. Beavers or Bobcats would have actually received my personal vote, but it was 1993, and the movie Jurassic Park was really popular, so Raptors was decided. Their colors were red, purple, black, and silver. Technically, the silver was called Naismith silver in honor of Canadian James Naismith, who created the game of basketball.
At their first press conference, they revealed their first General Manager: Isiah Thomas! You now know everything you need to know about those early Raptors teams. But Lunch is a harsh mistress and we've apparently both got more time to kill, so I guess I'll fill you in on all the other pointless details.
Actually, the early Raptors were a very confusing team. On paper, they sucked, and in the standings, they also sucked. That may tell a lot of the story, but the Raptors first hit the hardwood in 1995, when they won their first-ever game 94-79. It was over the New Jersey Nets, granted, but it was a win in a season when the win column would only add up to 21. That season happened to be the year the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) set the all-time win record at a whopping 72 victories, so it was saying something that the Raptors were one of the ten teams that came out on top of them in the regular season. Their bight rookie, Damon Stoudamire, was Rookie of the year. The following year, the Raptors won 30 games. Again, they were one of the few teams in the league that toppled the Chicago Bulls. Actually, the Raptors spent the year going to town on the NBA's elite: They beat the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, and Miami Heat, all of whom played in their conference finals series that year. But they struggled against everyone else, and somehow managed to lose three games to a terrible Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html) squad that won only 15 games that year.
1998 NBA draft. Vince Carter. Carter was actually the result of a draft day trade; the Raptors sent their fourth pick to the Golden State Warriors for Carter, who was picked fifth overall. They also made a trade for popular Knicks player Charles Oakley. Kevin Willis was also taken in that trade, and Doug Christie was brought in. Christie developed into one of the league's best, and to top everything off, the Raptors hired a new coach in Butch Carter. The team turned around in 1999, even though they missed the playoffs in that strike season.
The 2000 season saw the Raptors emerge. They opened a new arena, the Air Canada Centre, after four years at the cavern known as the Skydome. They went 45-37 and made the playoffs and it was considered a good year, even though Toronto was swept by New York in the playoffs in the first round. Vince Carter won the slam dunk contest, and that made new basketball fans of a lot of people around Toronto. 2001 had the Raptors winning 47 games, and it is generally considered THE watermark season for the team. They lost a classic seven-game series to the Philadelphia 76ers. Game seven came down to the final seconds, and Vince Carter was criticized for making the decision to attend his graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina that morning. Now, I'm not very fond of Vince Carter, after all the shit he pulled. But I don't blame him for attending his graduation. After all, he was a young, talented player for a good team and he had the chance to make the playoffs over and over again. He only had one chance to attend his graduation. That was a personal mark, like a wedding, and if I was in his position, I would have made the same decision. Actually, that's putting too much weight on it; it implies there would have even been a decision, and graduation is so far above a first-round playoff series that sports are totally moot next to it.
2003 began another down period for the Raptors. He admitted slacking off in order to force a trade, and was eventually given one. Fortunately for the team, the 2003 draft yielded Chris Bosh, who was named to the all-rookie team. When Carter gone, he stepped into the role as a franchise player, and he currently holds most of the team records. Even so, they struggled for the next few years, finally turning a corner when they won their first - and so far only - division title in 2006. Bosh eventually left to join the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html).
The Raptors haven't been that good even when they were winning, as you can clearly see. Despite a few winning seasons, the Raptors have never had a coach end his tenure with the team with a winning record, and they've never broken the 50-win mark. They have no titles, no conference titles, or even any playoff series victories. They have no retired numbers. They only have that single, lone little division title. Fans didn't seem to appreciate the purple togs, either, and the team eventually left them behind, too. That means they threw out even the one color people used to identify with them.
But it's not all bad. There may be reason for optimism. The Raptors have enjoyed a very consistent fanbase, if anything, and in three of their seasons they actually set attendance records. Also, the actual value of the Raptors seems to be going up. Maybe it helps that they're the only team in Canada nowadays, but at the start of the millennium, they took just five years to more than double their value. They have a very nice promotion that whenever the team scores over 100 points, all the fans get coupons for free pizza, so that's always nice.
Besides those, though, there isn't yet a whole lot of reason to throw your lot in with the Toronto Raptors. At least, not for anything other than potential. I know Toronto. I've been there several times and believe in the city wholeheartedly. I think they just need to make better pushes to promote Toronto to better free agents. But they haven't had any truly great identifiable players or moments or games and they're named after a brief cultural fascination from the 90's, so while they're likable, it pains me to throw them at the bottom of the heap for now.