As most who read this blog semi-regularly know, I'm a fan.
I'm not a fan of the Raptors in the sense that I don't watch games hoping they win and feel let down if they don't.
But I'm a fan of basketball. I loved all sports as a kid until I started playing basketball. After that everything else became kind of secondary. Some of the very best - and a few of the worst - moments I've ever had have come on a basketball court. It has never been a casual relationship.
One of my favourite professional memories was covering the Raptors' first-ever home playoff game. I remember talking to people older than me who - like me - remembered when being a fan of basketball in Canada or Toronto was like being a fan of a really good band that never got played on radio. There I was, on a sunny spring afternoon, going to cover the TORONTO Raptors against the Knicks, of all teams, in a rocking, sold-out Air Canada Centre. The odds of that turn of events coming to pass - the kid learned how to do a lay-up on the school ground from his best friend's older sister now getting paid to sit courtside for an NBA playoff game in his hometown 20 years later - are impossible to calculate, even for John Hollinger.
Many of my very best friends are basketball people - individuals who share the same passion for the game I do.
So having a reason to watch and write about basketball in any form is generally a great pleasure, and having had some less-than-pleasurable jobs in my life, I'd like to think I appreciate that fact.
Which is why I'm kind of happy the Raptors are winning right now and look to have morphed into a team that should keep winning. Not to say that their going to be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals any time soon, but the consistency they've played with over their past 26 games (17-9, fifth-best record in the NBA over that span) suggests this is a team that is a notch above merely scratching to get an eighth seed and bowing out silently in four games.
I'm happy not in the way fans have legitimate cause to be happy - this is an entertaining group to watch on both ends of the floor. They play an aggressive, trapping style of defence; they run; they share the ball. It's the way the game should be played.
But I'm happy for basketball. As a fan of the game, it's nice when our paper decides a Wednesday night Raptors game is worth of the front page of the sports section like it was displayed today. It's nice when old friends shoot me messages or neighbours want to talk about Chris Bosh staying or going.
Maybe it's selfish, but it's nice that people are interested in what you're interested in.
And while hockey is obviously at a different level and millions watch curling (I just don't happen to know any of them) and I like the Grey Cup as much as the next guy, I'll be curious to see what happens in the next few months if the Raptors continue to win at home and knock off the odd marquee team and generally keep winning with entertaining basketball.
Will the bandwagon fill up? Will the casual sports fan begin to buy in?
Hard-core Raptors fans have done some heavy lifting in the past decade. If you take 2000-01 as the high point and 2006-07 as the exception, it has been a pretty frustrating run.
It would be one thing if the teams had simply been terrible, but so often they've been disappointing: teams that failed to deliver on their potential; teams that were locked in bad contracts; management that seemed inept or handcuffed.
The first quarter of this year seemed like more of the same. Not just bad results, but unmet expectations, which is worse.
Which makes what's happened the past 26 games and what seems to be happening so cool: No one could have expected this.
It's the opposite of Vince Carter's injuries or the 2007-08 road to nowhere or last season's slide to obscurity.
For the Raptor faithful it's a new an unexpected bone to play with. It means thoughtful and insightful blog posts arguing the merits of Sonny Weems or Marco Belinelli. It means they can walk around with a smile on their face for the first time in three winters.
For a basketball fan it's just nice that people might have good reason to realize that hey, this is pretty cool; what did you say that band's name was again?
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