It’s been a few days since Toronto Raptor superstar Kawhi Leonard hit the dramatic buzzer beating last second shot to send his team to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Not only is this a display of athletic prowess, notice the off balance high arching shot needed in order to propel the ball over the outstretched hand of 7 + footer Joel Embid, but it symbolized and means much more than just a ball going through a hoop.
By dissecting the meaning of the shot, it’s possible to understand why many in the sports world are still talking about it days later, and why those who don’t usually watch sports may be moved and impacted in ways they’ve never felt.
Importantly, like any truly transcendent moment, there are layers of meaning. In pure basketball terms, we can analyze the game from the individual, to the current team, to the franchise, to even the national level. For Kawhi, the shot is a personal redemption. He sat out almost all last year with an injury, but worse, that injury disrupted the trust between himself and the team he played for, the San Antonio Spurs. Questions about his integrity, the seriousness of his injury, and dedication to winning amounted to a blockbuster trade that sent the “damaged” star to Toronto. Hitting that shot gave Kawhi a signature moment in his comeback year, on a new team, and will catapult him to even greater heights individually.
The team this year had perhaps the most expectations placed on it in its over two decade history. Armed with a top 5 player in Leonard and a strong supporting cast with all-stars Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, the team expected to reach at least the third round of the playoffs, and have their eyes set on their first finals appearance. Winning on the buzzer beater keeps those dreams alive and fans can continue to hope for that first championship.
It’s also redemptive for the franchise. The poetry of that game 7 set the stage for Kawhi’s dramatics. 18 years ago, Toronto’s first superstar Vince Carter had a chance to send Toronto to the third round, similarly against Philadelphia, with a buzzer beater. Carter’s last second shot clanged the rim and bounced out. When Kawhi’s shot bounced off the rim four times and then fell through the hoop, those 18 years of demons and regrets vanished in a moment of euphoria.
It’s also symbolic for Canada. As a basketball country, Canada has come a long way since it was granted two NBA franchises in 1995. We have produced #1 overall picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, and over a dozen NBA players currently. Basketball is also a grassroots success, with only Hockey and Soccer having more youth registrants than hoops.
The Raptors-Sixers game 7 was also the most watched basketball game in Canadian history, with over 3 million viewers watching at its peak. This is another breakthrough moment. It’s clear that the shot and the game have meaning beyond just the winning and losing of a playoff game and series. But there is more than that. At its heart, sport offers us a window into the transcendent, some would say to the divine. That moment of temporary perfection achieved through imperfect means, over obstacles, and through adversity, elevates sport. Philosopher Robert Novak goes even further “Sports are rituals concerning human survival on this planet: liturgical enactments of animal perfection and the struggles of the human spirit to prevail.” Sports relate the deepest meaning we can imagine.
You can see this through Kawhi’s shot and the way everyone who watched it reacted the same way. Had the ball gone in cleanly, we would remember it, but because of the drama and the suspense of the ball suspending in mid air, clanging for an eternity on the rim, that we collectively effused (except for Philadelphia players and fans) the same reaction. Listen to calls of the shot from around the world, in different languages, from those cheering for the Raptors to neutral observers:
It’s the same, the shot goes up, and then silence. Everyone watches the ball bounce. Time stands still. The still photos of the moment capture the same sentiment. The ball drops in and then everyone roars in amazement. Did we just witness that?
American national broadcaster on the TNT feed Kevin Harlan described the moment on Toronto Sports Radio as essentially a moment of collective prayer. For him, the two seconds of silence represented a collective moment of togetherness and related a spiritual dimension. In the arena, around 19,000 people fell silent at the same moment, holding their breaths, waiting to see the outcome. He described it as like church.
It’s at this deep level where we should look to find the most important meaning of the shot. It’s great that the Raptors are off to the next round and it’s maybe more likely that Kawhi will stay in Toronto, instead of bolting during free agency. But those meanings pale compared to symbolic extrapolation of what the shot tells us about our collective humanity. Struggle over adversity, doing the impossible, finding a miracle, executing in the moment, and reveling in momentary perfection.
As Novak suggests, these contests aren’t merely about who can score more points. They are about showing what humans are capable of, especially through our imperfectly designed bodies. The drama of the shot is matched by our potential to make our own meaning from it. Kids will be miming that shot in their driveways for years to come. People will talk about “The Shot” and we’ll know exactly what that means. We’ll relive the moment as many times as we can, because we feel it’s more important than just one basketball shot. That’s what great moments in sport do. They raise our eyes beyond our experience and connect us to a transcendent moment we will never forget.
Multiple key players will be out due to injuries.
According to the team, the Raptors will play without three of their key players, including scoring leader Pascal Siakam, as well as Marc Gasol, and Norman Powel “indefinitely.”
The three players sustained injuries a night earlier in a game in Detroit.
Siakam suffered a stretched groin while Gasol sustained a strained left hamstring.
Powell left the game in the fourth quarter after a collision with another player.
Last night during halftime Nav Bhatia, also known as “Superfan Nav” was presented with his own championship ring along with the Toronto Raptors’ players. This makes him the first-ever fan in Canada to be given a championship ring, and one of the few non-organization people to receive one.
The Toronto Raptor president, Masai Ujiri, presented Bhatia the 640 diamond-encrusted ring explaining that “[Bhatia] represents everything we are about” and “he represents our fans in every unbelievable way there is,” in a heartwarming gesture to a man who has fully dedicated himself to the Raptors.
Quite incredibly, Superfan Nav has not missed a single Toronto Raptors game since 1995 (the year of the teams founding), at the cost of attending many personal functions, sometimes to the chagrin of his very patient wife.
At the least, his absolute dedication to the Raptors has not gone unnoticed. Aside from the championship ring, Bhatia has received free seats, as well as being appointed grand marshal in the championship parade earlier in the year.
After receiving the championship ring Bhatia said that, “I always dreamt for a championship but I never thought I’d be here among all you guys accepting this beautiful championship ring. I’m really honoured and humbled,” going on to joke, “I hope my wife is not mad because I put this over my wedding ring.”
I don’t know how to put this in words. Thank you to the greatest organization in sports for how much they care about their fans. I accept this championship ring on behalf of every @Raptors fan across the globe. Words do not express what this means to me. pic.twitter.com/iA5VE10V1K— Nav Bhatia Superfan (@superfan_nav) October 23, 2019
Bhatia has not only been recognized for his love of basketball and the Toronto Raptors, but also more recently for his charity work with his own Superfan Foundation which is a non-profit dedicated to building basketball courts and camps for underprivileged kids around the world.
There is no wonder why the man has become a Canadian sports icon.
As tensions soar in the NBA over the issue of Hong Kong and China, some Toronto Raptors fans are giving away pro-Hong Kong T-shirts for their opening game.
This tweet from HK World City confirms:
A group of basketball fans who support Hong Kong’s protests for democracy, raised more than $34,000 to give t-shirts to people attending the first Raptors’ game.
“As you may know by now, China is trying to censor the entire NBA because Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted a ‘Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong’ photo to support Hong Kong,” reads the GoFundMe page in support of this endeavour.
“For those who didn’t follow what is going on, you might ask ‘why?’ It all started with a proposed amendment on an extradition law that would jeopardize the autonomy of Hong Kong and Hongkongers don’t like it.”
As of the time of the writing of this article, donations have been disabled by the organizers.
“Canada is actually another battleground to fight against China. In Canada, Pro-Beijing nationalists gathered to disrupt Pro-Democracy events across the country. In addition to deep-rooted historical ties, there are 300,000 Canadians currently working and living in Hong Kong. Canada and Hong Kong share universal values such as the rule of law, individual freedoms and human rights,” the page adds.
The shirts are expected to fill up a third of the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The Raptors have not officially endorsed this, and are not involved with any political movement.
Yesterday’s Toronto Raptors Championship parade capped off the most tremendous playoff run of any major Canadian sports franchise in the past quarter-century. An estimated north of 2 million people lined the streets of downtown Toronto and packed Nathan Phillips Square, waiting hours to see their heroes and hear them rejoice in victory.
It was a celebration shared by many across this country and a scene that will be hard to forget.
Why did so many people skip work and school, wait for hours in cramped and uncomfortable conditions along the route to see their champions atop open-air buses for a moment or two? Or the tens of thousands jammed into a small city square in front of city hall to listen to a few speeches from athletes and politician. But the question remains, what compels people to identify with athletes who rise to the top, and why do we all want to identify with them as “our team”?
When I tuned into Toronto sports radio yesterday, I heard similar themes that have been echoed over and over again during this run. Why did so many jump onboard and support this team?
Most analysts agreed that something important changed when Kawhi Leonard hit that miraculous buzzer beater in game 7 of the second round to eliminate the Philadelphia 76’ers. That shot, all its drama and significance reeled in people who would never care about basketball, and turned them into crazed and passionate supporters for the next three weeks as the Raptor’s chased championship glory.
I wrote about that shot and it’s meaning and argued that we needed to look to the deepest ideas of meaning to truly understand the gravitas of that shot. “But those [surface level] meanings pale compared to symbolic extrapolation of what the shot tells us about our collective humanity. Struggle over adversity, doing the impossible, finding a miracle, executing in the moment, and reveling in momentary perfection.”
It seemed a prophetic observation, the momentum only grew. Over 7.7 million Canadians tuned in on average to watch Toronto clinch champions’ gold against the Golden State Warriors, with 15.9 million tuning in at one point. If you add the tens of thousands in the 59 Jurassic Parks across Canada, the number reaches close to 50% of the Canadian population engaging in the same activity at the same time, and importantly with the same motivation and goal. Clearly, something deeper than a sports victory is pulling people together.
Sport Philosopher Robert Novak highlighted the etymological root of the word fan in fantastic, which relates to the Greek word fanum meaning loosely meaning Temple or Sacred Place. Sport offers us a chance to not only participate but for the spectators to invest themselves in these dramas of our collective humanity.
Sport’s transcendent nature is not just for the participants, but also for the spectators. The insistence upon fans as participants in the actual contest relates an important unique element of sport as a cultural institution.
We can actually participate with our heroes, we do not follow along with them in stories, but we actually journey with them as the story unfolds. Think of the crowd’s affect on the opponent’s and referee’s at a home game as a great example. Unlike actors, writers, poets, and artists, all involved in the sport environment participate in the action and thus experience and live its symbolic lessons in real time along with the hero.
It’s why broadcasters, for example, sound more like giddy fans on parade day than objective observers.
How could they be? No other cultural institution allows this type of participatory potential with the heroes of the story. As the athlete or the participant, sport offers humanity the experiments to touch the height of human perfection and taste the bitterness of constant and recurring death.
That’s the power of sport. It unites people in a drama they will relive forever. How many young Canadians are streaking down the right side of the basket and putting up Kawhi’s miracle shot, trying to recreate the moment? Canadian broadcasters replayed Game 6 on the radio and television over the weekend, allowing fans to bask in the glory one more time. Toronto Mayor John Tory immortalized this team by declaring parade day, June 17, as “We the North” day. This team did not just win a championship, they incredibly united millions of people around a possibility.
You can just look at the numbers to see it’s true. But even deeper than the numbers, people united around sports for its transcendent purposes. Many narratives are being written about how basketball, a global and diverse sport, is bringing together the new diverse Canada.
Yes, we can look at people’s superficial identifiers and note how the Raptors crowd is highly textured. That’s a good thing. But it’s not the important takeaway into why so many fell in love with this team.
If anything, the Raptors reflected a Canadian attitude independent of diversity. A hard working, no frills, yet confident and humble group. Fans saw in the team a sense of what unites Canada.
If we had a diversity of values in this country, we wouldn’t see the same type of unified affection for the team. We might look differently, but that’s not important.
What’s important is what brings us together.
Sports’ transcendent nature allows a society to broadcast and reaffirm important cultural values.
The Raptors’ hard work, dedication, sacrifice, execution, and excellence are virtues that Canadians still hold dear.
We may be split on politics, music, literature, art, and television, but sports provide us a place to celebrate together. It’s that message that should resonate from the Raptor’s victory.
It’s more important to share in the values that sport affirms, and that’s exactly why millions of Canadians lost themselves in the fever of the past few months.
We won’t soon forget this run, and we should remember it for all the right reasons.