It took 24 years for the Toronto Raptors to win their first NBA title, and they marked the occasion with a record-setting diamond championship ring big enough to illustrate the team’s story.
During a pregame ceremony to open the new season on Tuesday, the Raptors received eye-popping gold rings, bursting with diamonds. The face features the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, Toronto’s skyline and the team’s home, Scotiabank Arena. A gold-plated, diamond-studded NORTH centres the ring, a nod to the red chevron jersey they wore the night they hoisted the trophy in June.
In an era in which championship rings in pro sports get bigger and bolder by the year, the Raptors dialled up the glamour. The team says this ring sets some records. The 1.25-carat diamond featured as the basketball atop the Larry O’Brien trophy on the ring’s face is the largest single diamond in any professional championship ring ever made. The ring also boasts the most diamond total carat weight (14 tcw) and the most diamonds (640).
The Raptors ownership group, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, declined to reveal the value of the ring or how much it spent, but it did make a proclamation about it.
“We can say with confidence it is the most valuable ring ever created for an NBA championship team,” said Shannon Hosford, MLSE’s chief marketing officer. “We wanted something completely unique to tell the story of the Raptors getting to this historic moment. It’s really like an individual trophy for each person who receives one.”
The details about this enormous blinged-out ring remained a secret to almost all of the Raptors until Tuesday’s ceremony.
It was crafted by Baron Championship Rings, the only Canadian company among the three jewellers chosen to bid for the job. Raptors all-star point guard Kyle Lowry was part of the group from MLSE that gave design input and selected from the prototypes presented in the three pitch meetings. The group unanimously chose Baron’s ring.
Lowry – a 13-year NBA veteran and the longest-serving Raptor on the team – called it “one-of-a-kind” and “spectacular,” a ring that would “shock” his teammates. Lowry FaceTimed with one teammate from the pitch meeting to show the prototype (although he declined to tell reporters who that player was).
“It was one of those things, like when you first set your eyes on something and you’re like, ‘Yes, that’s it,' ” Lowry said of the moment the ring was chosen. “It’s the first one in the organization’s history and we wanted to make sure it would stand apart from every other ring that’s been done before. We’re the first team outside of the U.S. to have an NBA championship ring, so we were like, we can’t be like anyone else; we’ve got to be different because this is special.”
Lowry said most of the Raptors had waited a very long time to earn a championship ring.
“Except Patrick McCaw, who now has three,” Lowry said with a laugh, singling out his teammate who had been part of the 2017 and 2018 Golden State Warriors championship teams. “We wanted our ring to be a little bit better than his other two.”
Meticulous thought went into the ring’s design details. The face has 74 diamonds, representing the number of Raptors wins during the championship season. Six of those sit atop the Scotiabank Arena, to signify the “the Six”. The outer edge of the ring has 16 rubies separating the jersey numbers of the 16 players on that roster. One side of the ring has the player’s name and number; the other reads “World Champions” – both sides are smothered in diamonds.
All of the gold and diamonds in the ring were sourced in Canada.
Inside the ring, players each have a personalized engraved message, along with a ruby-centred maple leaf. It also has the win-loss records from the four playoff series during their championship run. The colossal piece of jewellery was made to be worn on the middle finger where its hefty weight can best be balanced on the hand. Depending on the player’s ring size, it weighs between 120 and 130 grams.
“Kyle said he wanted it to pop. He wanted to be wowed, and that’s exactly what he said when he saw it,” said Peter Kanis, the president of Baron. “His eyes lit right up. He held onto the ring, and he kept asking to hold it again. We figured that was a good sign.”
The company had worked with MLSE before, on championship rings for Toronto FC, the Marlies and Raptors 905. The Canadian ring manufacturer had lots of experience across many sports, including making the rings for the 2016 NBA-champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The creatives at the company’s Windsor, Ont., location began dreaming up ideas for a potential Raps championship ring during the playoff run, long before they reached out to pitch for the job. Like many Canadian workplaces during that run, staffers were wearing Raptors gear at work and buzzing over each victory. In the days right after the championship was won – and before MLSE had had a chance to think about rings yet – Baron let it know it was ready to compete for the opportunity.
When the process eventually saw the company chosen for the job, Kanis said “it was a big party, Champagne was popping. Then we quickly put our heads down and got the job done. There was a lot to do in a short time.”
Great care was taken by everyone involved over the past few months to keep the design a secret until Tuesday.
In advance of the big night, the rings arrived at Scotiabank Arena by armoured truck and were flanked by security. The players also received elaborate boxes for their rings back at their lockers, which included a ring cleaning kit, and those were presented alongside a bottle of Champagne.
The ring manufacturer made several tiers of Raps championship rings for different people, with the players’ tier being of the largest size and highest quality. Each Raptors staff member and each employee at MLSE was entitled to a tier of ring, and every one was custom made. The rings tiered down to the replicas handed out to the 20,000 fans attending Tuesday’s season-opening game. More replicas are also available online for fans to purchase.
Lowry said it is certainly not an everyday piece of jewellery. He plans to wear it on special occasions. The point guard hoped Tuesday’s ceremony would not be the only ring ceremony in his lifetime.
“I hope to be wearing another one soon.”