As recently as last week, newly acquired Raptors’ big man and Montreal-native Khem Birch explained that playing for the Toronto club was a dream come true. While it seems like a typical cliché that players drop when joining a new team, this was so much more. As the most recent in only a handful of Canadians to ever lace up for the Raptors, Birch is setting the tone for Canadians in the future that playing for the Raptors is an honour and a dream come true for a lot of Canadian basketball players and fans. What makes this even more impactful is that Birch was sought after by teams in championship contention as well as the Raptors, but chose to move home and join a franchise whose culture, and winning habits have failed to draw big name free agents in recent years.
With more Canadian talent in the NBA than ever before, the opportunity for home-grown talent to come play for the Raptors is better than ever. Though a lot of the top-level Canadian NBA talent likely won’t be going anywhere soon, with players like Jamal Murray or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander either signing a maximum contract extension or warranting one with their play, the Raptors may see role players like Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, or Trey Lyles look to join the Raptors in the future.
We’ve even seen Americans in recent years express their admiration for both the franchise and the country after coming to Toronto. Of course there are Toronto icons like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry who have expressed their love for the country both orally and through their willingness to re-sign in free agency. Other guys like Danny Green also have shown love to the 6ix and America’s northern neighbour, going on road trips throughout the country and even returning after his tenure with the team ended. Hopefully this trend continues in the future as more American players recognize the culture of the team and the country are heavily sought after.
As more and more Canadians enter the NBA and elevate their teams, basketball in Canada will continue to grow and bring more prestige to both the Raptors and Canada Basketball. American players will no longer yearn for road trips or request trades if things aren’t going their way. Canada is an undeniable power in the basketball world now and things will only continue to move in that direction especially with an Olympic berth for the country. Canadian basketball fans should be excited for what the future holds.