In 1995 the NBA added two expansion teams to play on Canadian soil. The 1995-96 NBA season was the inaugural one for the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors. After six losing seasons though, the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated.
Low fan attendance, loss of money, and the team changing hands were all reasons for the relocation. The Grizzlies went on to call to Memphis, Tennessee home beginning in the 2001-2002 season. The Toronto Raptors however experienced a much different fate.
Vinsanity to Toronto
In the 1998 NBA Draft via a trade with Golden State Warriors, the Raptors acquired Vince Carter a guard/forward out of the University of North Carolina. He put points on the board and dazzled crowds with his monstrous dunks.
These feats earned him the nicknames “Vinsanity” and “Air Canada”. And during his time with the Raptors from 1998-2005, the team thrived. But more than that basketball in Canada thrived.
With only one team up north, Canada rallied around the Raptors. Even after Carter’s departure the popularity of basketball in Canada continued to grow. According to an ESPN report, the Raptors finished the 2018-2019 regular season fourth overall in attendance for home games amongst the 30 NBA franchises. No doubt, the popularity is there.
Rise of Homegrown Canadian Talent
Now as far as basketball talent from north of the border, that has been growing as well. And this was seen in the past nine NBA drafts as at least one Canadian was selected in each of them. And a record four players from Canada were selected in 2014. Also, in 2013 and 2014, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins were the respective number one overall picks in those drafts. Both were from Canada.
Back in 2013 Roy Rana head coach of men’s basketball at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario said in regard to Canadian basketball, “The talent that we’re developing at all levels is improving … and I think that’s a testament to what coaches are doing at the youth level”.
In 2017, Rana’s words rang true as he coached Canada’s U-19 Men’s National Team to a gold medal at the FIBA U-19 World Cup. That was the country’s first international championship at a FIBA-regulated event. The increased level of basketball proficiency was on display at this year’s NCAA tournament. 24 Canadians players were active in the tournament.
Montreal as a New NBA City?
With the heightened level of basketball play and popularity in Canada, one question remains. Will Canada gain back a second NBA franchise? Prior to the 2018-19 regular season, the Raptors and Brooklyn Nets played a preseason in Montreal, Quebec at the Bell Centre.
At a pre-game media conference, a group of local Montreal business people put a together a presentation as to why Montreal would be a great option for an NBA expansion team. The summary of that presentation was that city would be ready to go should the opportunity arise.
Canada is overdue for another NBA team. I went to Montreal two years ago, and the level of local basketball fandom was summed up in one experience. A local sports bar played both NBA and NHL playoff games evenly on all television sets.
Local patrons have as much NBA knowledge as they do of their beloved NHL. And this was eye opening as hockey was always seen as their “above all others” most popular sport.
Then, a month ago in Vancouver, B.C. I had another such experience. A restaurant I was eating at had every television on the BioSteel All Canadian Basketball Game, an All-Star game featuring Canada’s best high school hoopers.
The more telling part of this was that the Canadian basketball players looked as skillful, athletic, and as adept on the hardwood as American players. That goes to show how talented Canada really is, how much they love the sport, and how much it has grown north of the border.
It seems as though they are due for another team.
So, will a second NBA franchise return to Vancouver? Will Montreal be a new home for an NBA team? Adam Silver, your move!