About an hour before the start of the N.B.A. finals on Thursday night, Commissioner Adam Silver arrived for his pregame news conference and offered a history lesson.
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Silver reminded the assembled reporters that Dr. James Naismith, who invented basketball, was originally from Ontario. He also noted that the first N.B.A. game took place in Toronto, at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, in November 1946. The New York Knickerbockers defeated the Toronto Huskies, 68-66.
Yes, believe or not, the Knicks won a game. And sure, the Huskies folded one year later. But that was all beside the point.
“This,” Silver said, “is a homecoming of sorts for basketball in Canada.”
A homecoming because the finals are in Toronto — and in Canada — for the first time, with the Raptors taking on the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
I’m Scott Cacciola, an N.B.A. reporter for The Times. Since coming on board in 2013, I’ve been casually (and sometimes not so casually) watching the growth of basketball in Canada. It’s become hugely popular thanks to a number of factors: more opportunities for children to play the game, an international push made by the league, the fact that virtually anyone with an internet connection can watch N.B.A. games anytime they want. The game has gone global, and Toronto has become something of a basketball hub.
It’s gotten to the point where more top N.B.A. draft picks are coming out of Toronto than nearly any other North American city.
Not to be overlooked, though, is the impact of the Raptors themselves, who arrived on the scene in 1995 and have slowly built a huge following that ranges from Nav Bhatia, a car salesman and self-described Raptors “Superfan” whom I profiled a couple of seasons ago, to the rapper Drake. In addition to sitting courtside for games at Scotiabank Arena, where he regularly gets under the skin of opponents, Drake even has an official role with the organization: global ambassador.
But the team has helped legitimize the sport in a city that, for so long, has been synonymous with hockey.
On Thursday, during a break between the first and second quarters, a bunch of retired Raptors were introduced to roars of appreciation from the crowd — players like Morris Peterson, Chris Bosh, Tracy McGrady and Dell Curry, a former shooting guard whose son Stephen now stars for the Warriors. (Worth noting: A young Stephen Curry dominated opponents for his Toronto-area middle school while his dad was playing for the Raptors toward the end of his career.)
Meanwhile, in an area outside the arena, thousands of fans had packed the aptly named “Jurassic Park” for a huge watch party. Many had lined up since the morning, just so they could view a broadcast of the game together on giant screens. It was another sign of how much the Raptors mean to the city, and how firmly entrenched the game is here.
Of course, the Raptors’ run to the finals has been especially rewarding for fans because of the team’s tortured postseason history. For years, the Raptors had fallen short of reaching the finals — in large part because they kept running into LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But James’s decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers last summer opened the door for the Raptors, and they capitalized.
The question going forward is whether the Raptors can keep their roster intact. Kawhi Leonard, their star forward, will be a free agent this summer with his choice of suitors.
On Thursday, though, none of that mattered as the Raptors stormed to a 118-109 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. You can follow our full coverage of the series here, and through my colleague Marc Stein’s N.B.A. newsletter. The Raptors will host Game 2 on Sunday, with an opportunity to inch closer to their first championship. The city is loving every second of the chase.
This week’s Trans Canada and Around The Times highlights were compiled by Lindsey Wiebe, the Canada audience growth editor.
—A national inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls in Canada is coming to a close. But some say the investigation has been marred by a lack of transparency and poor communication with families of victims.
—Mexico, China, Japan, Europe, Canada. If you’re struggling to keep track of President Trump’s global trade war, check out our guide.
—Family travel has its own challenges, as one family found on a three-generation cycling trip through the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec.
—The Raptors star Kawhi Leonard is the talk of the N.B.A. this season — and Toronto’s success shows why. “All he talks about is winning, and it’s been that way since I met him,” Coach Nick Nurse said.
—Our latest roundup of what to watch on Netflix Canada includes “Murder Mystery,” the first Netflix pairing for Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, and the fifth season of the tech-dystopian series “Black Mirror.”
Around The Times
—Planning your summer reading? The Times has rounded up the latest and greatest books to keep readers happy, hydrated and cool, wherever they happen to be unwinding.
—For small pockets of the young, urban and progressive, the communal life of the convent is calling.
—An arrest in Japan set off a series of events that may see Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which employs more Canadians than any other carmaker, change owners for the fourth time in recent years. It may also set up an internal battle over the North American market.
—“Say you are prescribed medication for depression, anxiety or even just to sleep,” writes JoAnna Klein, a reporter who contributes to Science Times. “Would you want to take it if you knew that the drug had only been tested on men and male animals?”
—Tesla approved a pay package for its chief executive, Elon Musk, valued at as much as $2.3 billion. Compensation experts say it’s not just the highest sum for last year; it’s the biggest ever.