The Raptors sure know how to put their fans through it. After producing a rousing 4th quarter come back, before freezing spectacularly during overtime in game 1. The Raptors performed in a completely contrary fashion last night, blowing a big lead before pulling themselves together in OT. Their fans must be wondering what new way their team will find to mentally and emotionally torture them in game 3. From humiliating sweeps to soul crushing game 7 losses the Raptors have always found inventive ways to arrive at the same destination, disappointing ends to promising seasons. Yet as I watch more and more of this infuriating team, I think I find myself becoming a Raptors fan.
Growing up in UK and following basketball from a distance meant that I never really gravitated to a particular team. I liked the Heat because they had Dwyane Wade and I liked the Suns because they had Steve Nash. But my support was always more based around the players rather than the actual teams. With Toronto it’s different, whilst I like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry they were hardly my favourite players in the league. I think my affection for the Raptors stems from their similarities to my first true sporting love, Arsenal Football Club.
My conscious time of supporting Arsenal has been dominated by the team being good but not quite good enough, always contriving to implode at the crucial stage of the season. I was 12 when the 2003-04 Invincibles season happened. Old enough to remember it, but not really old enough to appreciate how special it was, for at that time being an Arsenal meant fairly regular glory. Going to watch them at Highbury was enjoyable and it always seemed to be sunny, alas no more. My first real memory of fandom was the 2006 Champions League final, and I’m pretty sure it was the last time I cried.
Since then supporting Arsenal has been a repeating cycle of hope and disappointment, at the start of every season I trick myself into believing it will be different, but so far it never has. I’ve almost become accustomed to the numb feeling after a home loss to Swansea City or Blackburn Rovers has finally put us out of our misery for another year. But i’ll be back next year, with Trotter-like optimism for sure, because this time next year Rodders we’ll be Premier League champions.
The similarities between Arsenal and the Raptors aren’t limited to an inability to deliver when it matters and having great players, who look like world beaters in September and October, but more like Sunday Leaguers come April. Over the past 5 years I have had to watch Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie leave Arsenal and succeed elsewhere, often at clubs I truly hate (United, Chelsea) and it fucking hurt. Likewise Raptors fans watched Chris Bosh join the Heat and win back to back NBA titles in Miami. Vince Carter may have never won a championship with the Nets, but his New Jersey team did eliminate the Raptors from the playoffs in 2007. The loss of Carter to the Nets has created serious animosity towards the franchise amongst Raptors fans.
So why do I find myself being drawn in to a way to double down on the pain? Do I really just hate myself that much? Or has my lifetime of supporting Arsenal given me some from of sports fan Stockholm Syndrome, where I actually believe that this is a fun and entertaining way to spend my time? Maybe it’s because I believe any success the team has will feel better as a result of the suffering?
There is a fundamental difference between the Raptors and Arsenal. The fans. As Arsenal fans we really haven’t had to put up with nearly as much as the Raptors, especially the older generation who got to enjoy us winning a shitload. Yet we bitch and we moan and we protest and completely fail to get behind the team at the Emirates. The Raptors fan base, who have never tasted anything close to real success in the NBA, supports their team with a passion perhaps unmatched in the league. Gathering outside the arena in their thousands just to watch on a screen.
Maybe that’s why I’m gravitating towards the Raptors, because their fans are everything I wish Arsenal’s could be. Also if they ever win an NBA championship Drake will loose his mind which will be fantastic to witness. Or shit, maybe it’s because I just don’t want to be happy. Either way it’s happening and lets see if I can deal with it.