Basketball: Canada’s Pastime?

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This year, the Toronto Raptors are making a deep run into the NBA Playoffs*; this is the first time that a Canadian franchise has reached the NBA Finals. However, this inexperience doesn’t mean that Canada lacks basketball roots. Despite the Raptors not being my team, I can’t help but feel fired-up about the potential of a Championship in the North. Excitement towards basketball in Canada is at an all-time high, making it the perfect time to dive into the history of the game.

In the winter of 1891-92, James Naismith, a 31-year-old graduate student from Almonte, Ontario, was attending the International YMCA Training School (now named Springfield College), in Springfield, Massachusetts. That state is now home to one of the oldest, winningest, and most popular franchises in the NBA, the Boston Celtics. While in school, Naismith had to design a game for one of his classes that could be easily understood, but also complex enough to hold interest. Additionally, Naismith wanted to create a game that would be less rough than soccer, football, or rugby, although that is debatable in games today. The game also needed to be playable on any type of ground, and be capable of accommodating many participants. With these instructions, basketball was born.

Naismith’s original plan was to use two boxes at either end as the baskets; however, the janitor was unable to find boxes, but provided peach baskets instead. One of the blaring flaws of the initial game design was the base in the baskets, which trapped the ball inside. This made having a man at each basket a necessity, as he would have to retrieve the ball. Additionally, the initial ball used in the game did not have the same design or material used today, so no one was able to dribble. Due to this limitation, players could not move with the ball in their hands. Naismith’s list of 13 Rules was published and distributed, which allowed others to learn and play, making the game an instant hit.

In the early days of basketball, there were two individual leagues within North America: The National Basketball League, which represented smaller cities, and The Basketball Association of America, which represented larger, metropolitan cities. The first ever Basketball Association of America game was held in Toronto, featuring the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers. Realizing that separate leagues would limit their success, the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of American merged in 1949, creating the NBA.

The first 46 years were not great times for Canada in the NBA, with no Canadian based teams to support. In the 1995-96 season, however, the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors were introduced. The Grizzlies were fleeting and would become the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001. The Raptors, however, have consistently improved as the years progressed; their talent continued to rise, and the support within the City of Toronto, and Canada as a whole, has increased dramatically. With the offseason addition of All-Star small forward Kawhi Leonard, it feels as if the Raptors have found the missing piece they’ve needed all this time. Additionally, community involvement across the country, and within Toronto specifically, has been more fevered than one would have imagined. With movie theatres across Canada showing the game, and tens of thousands of Raptor fans lining up over 15 hours before the first game of the NBA Finals to watch together in downtown Toronto, it’s safe to say that basketball is alive and well in Canada, and I’m sure James Naismith couldn’t be more proud.


*This was written prior to the Toronto Raptors becoming the 2019 NBA Champions. Canada finally got it’s long deserved championship, and sparked a