Why I'm jumping on the Raptors' bandwagon 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RYAN H CEASE/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - CELEBRATION TIME Toronto Raptors Fans celebrate after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the NBA Finals on May 25.
  • Photo by Ryan H Cease/Shutterstock.com
  • CELEBRATION TIME Toronto Raptors Fans celebrate after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the NBA Finals on May 25.

On Thursday, I joined a group of friends at a bar and watched a basketball game (from start to finish) for the first time in the better part of a decade.

Like many, I count myself among a much-maligned contingent of sports fan: the bandwagon jumper.

But in my view, there should be no shame in it.

It is, of course, a great time to cheer for the Raptors, Canada's only NBA basketball team, who appear to have a real shot at winning the league finals.

Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto-based team's star player, has been leading a phenomenal playoff run.

Yet many fear he will decamp to another team next year. So who knows if this streak will be repeated anytime soon.

I know this tidbit from reading the many primers that have popped up for people like me—the part-time follower. With titles like, "A bandwagon fan's guide to the Toronto Raptors," they are immensely helpful for people who want the backstory.

Other important things I have learned? Point guard Kyle Lowry works (really) hard and is a fan favourite; The Raptors are up against the Golden State Warriors who are playing for their third straight championship; and Canadian rapper Drake is a really, really big Raptors' fan.

Admittedly, I already kind of knew this last item—the rapper's cultural significance is too big not to have noticed.

What I didn't know is just how polarizing his courtside behaviour is, with one Montreal Gazette writer recently calling out Drake's "clownish antics (that) deflect attention from a very good Toronto team."

Others point to two mysterious tattoos on Drake's left arm—which appear to be tributes to Kevin Durant and Steph Curry (star Warriors players, apparently)—as signs of a hidden agenda.

Personally, I find all the handwringing about Drake a bit absurd.

Seeing a superstar rapper so exuberant, so invested in his team is refreshing.

As I watched Game 1 of the finals, I kept wondering why Sportsnet doesn't pan to him more often, or maybe even hand him a microphone and let him conduct the post-game interview?

Basketball, it seems, is one of those sports that embraces the spectacle, where players and fans are allowed, and even encouraged, to have big personalities.

This stands in stark contrast to professional hockey, where star players are nearly always understated and quick to deflect attention away from themselves.

In an age where cynicism runs rampant, I find myself encouraged by the unbridled joy that's on display.

Thousands of Torontonians have been packing into Jurassic Park, a public square, to watch the game, and Canadians from coast to coast are embracing the team.

Why wouldn't I want to be part of that? If there is one unfortunate aspect of being a bandwagon jumper, it's knowing what you missed—the spectacular plays that led to this moment.

That includes Leonard's Game 7 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers. The ball literally bounced on the rim four times before finally dropping.

Watching the replay is incredible, but seeing it live would have been next level.

Yet at least I'm finally tuned in, with a grand new interest to enjoy, albeit for a brief amount of time.

If you are like me, and perhaps feel a twinge of guilt about your lack of devotion, don't.

Canada appears to be having a moment, embracing a sport with broad appeal.

And real fans seem to be happy for newcomers to join the party.

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