The Toronto Raptors coaches were sitting in a meeting on Monday afternoon, deep in a heated conversation about adjustments they should make to counter the Washington Wizards in Wednesday’s Game 5. Then suddenly, they saw something that changed the tone of the day.
Assistant coach Rex Kalamian happened to notice a message on his phone asking if everyone was okay. Confused, the coaches flipped on the television and saw images of a tragedy in the city they currently call home: nine people dead (that figure was updated to 10 later) and more than a dozen injured after a van drove into pedestrians on a north Toronto street.
Everyone was texting to find out if everyone was okay. It took place not too far from where I live,” said Toronto head coach Dwane Casey, a native of Kentucky who has coached in Toronto since 2011. “It does put things into perspective. There are things much bigger than sport right now in the world, and right now in Toronto. Hopefully though, sport can offer relief, some reprieve, some joy, perhaps lighten things up a little bit from the incident, which was very, very unfortunate. It just lets you know that the world we live in is always changing, and it could be here, or anywhere in the world.”
All-star point guard Kyle Lowry was moved by the video that many news channels are playing of the police officer apprehending the suspect without violence. The officer pointed his gun at the man, but was able to get the suspect to the ground and cuff him peacefully without firing any shots.
“Yeah, I did see it. I think if he would have been in America, he would have been shot up a few times,” said Lowry, who hails from Philadelphia and has played here since 2012. “Kudos to that officer. I’m sure some people wish that officer would have done damage to the man, but yeah, not my job. I’m glad that’s not my job. That’s why those guys, the police officers, they protect and serve to make judgment calls. He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”
Club President Masai Ujiri said he was also in a meeting on Monday when he began to get word of the news. Concerned friends and colleagues were texting him, he said, from across the United States and various parts of the world after seeing the news story out of Toronto.
“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city. It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world,” the Nigerian-born Ujiri said. “I think we must continue to live our lives and not be afraid.”
Ujiri said the team will honour the victims and families involved in Monday’s attack in some way at Wednesday’s game, as the city’s fans gather by the thousands both inside and outside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Maple Leaf Square outside the ACC will be filled with Toronto basketball, hockey and soccer fans that night. On a very rare evening, it will play host to a combined tailgate viewing party for the Raptors-Wizards game, as well as the Maple Leaf Game 7 road contest versus the Boston Bruins and Toronto FC’s CONCACAF final matchup in Guadalajara.
“It puts life in perspective. What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “For my drive home, all I thought about was that and the heaviness of it and how you should come out of this. The next thing I thought was I still know who we are, I still know what this city is, and I still know that those kind of things can never really put this kind of city down.”