It’s been a long time since anyone’s won anything important in this town. So in the same way teams aren’t much good at planning parades, they’re also pretty terrible at other sorts of ceremonies.
You were probably prepared to forgive the Toronto Raptors for going a little bonkers with their banner-raising on Tuesday.
Then you had to sit through it. And you felt less forgiving.
Since it was won in Oakland, very few Canadians got to celebrate the Raptors’ championship live and in person. This was meant to be a chance for a few more people to do that. Instead, the Raptors chose to celebrate by themselves.
Well, not all of themselves.
Ceremonies began with a lengthy video montage of the team’s playoff run. It was hard not to remark on the thing that was missing – Kawhi Leonard.
While not invisible, Leonard was noticeably de-emphasized in the video. There were certain unavoidable inclusions – ‘the Shot’ against Philadelphia; the moment of final victory.
But if you were using this highlight package to judge how the postseason went, you’d think Serge Ibaka was as important to the title as Leonard. And he wasn’t.
Yes, Leonard bailed on Toronto, but he did leave behind a substantial parting gift. Rewriting history in order to soothe hurt feelings makes the Raptors seem petty. More to the point, it isn’t fooling anyone.
Had they any sense, special mention would have been made of Leonard during the ceremony. Surely the crowd wanted the chance to fete him, if only just this once.
Instead, it was left to Kyle Lowry to utter Leonard’s name, and only as he rattled off a laundry list of absent roster members.
Leave it to team owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment to turn Leonard into Canada’s Trotsky – helped us win the revolution, then gets airbrushed out of the picture.
After that, a segue from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, playing his usual role while up in these parts – the magnanimous American.
“Nothing brings people together like sports,” Silver said. “It unites us all.”
Except in China, I guess.
Now I’m afraid we’ll have to talk about the rings. I don’t want to, either, but that’s how it has to be.
Without releasing a dollar amount, the Raptors were keen that everyone know these rings are the most opulent championship bauble ever made.
“We wanted to spend as much money as we possibly could,” Kyle Lowry said, joking and not joking.
The result of that ambition is a piece of jewellery that would’ve made Louis XIV go purple with embarrassment. The ring looks like a finger-mounted Fabergé egg – golden, garish and buckshot with dozens of diamonds.
When members of the Raptors support staff – so, normal-sized human beings – displayed theirs in the early going, a few seemed to have trouble raising their hands in the air.
If we are all living in the midst of the decline of empire, this is the point our art becomes decadent. It is hard to reconcile the Raptors’ tagline – which seems to suggest we here in the north are all in this together – with this sort of pomposity.
Someone asked Norman Powell what he’d be doing with his ring. Powell said he planned to take it to his house in Las Vegas and display it with his other trophies.
Mr. Powell, we have your home-insurance provider on the phone. He’d like to talk about a sudden, enormous increase in your deductible.
Beyond the rings themselves, the machinations of handing them out to every single up-front and backroom member of the Raptors were interminable. In the midst of it, a thought bubble was forming over the heads of the increasingly deflated crowd: “How many freaking people work here?”
The most lavish praises were saved for the Raptors’ three keys to NBA supremacy – MLSE board members Larry Tanenbaum, George Cope and Edward Rogers. You should see those guys run the picket fence. It’s a sight.
There was a ring girl handing the jewellery to suited men who then handed over the rings to recipients – a nice, anachronistic touch. This was beginning to feel like an Academy Awards ceremony back before someone figured out that you stage a show for the viewers, not the participants.
By the time they got to the players, the crowd was woozy. Why didn’t they start with this?
The players had to run a plutocrat gauntlet to get their prize – league boss to MLSE boss to Telecom Boss #1 and Telecom Boss #2. This involved more painfully awkward man-hugging than your typical AA meeting.
Fittingly, Lowry was the last to get his ring. Though he is not one for stirring oratory or hype duties, Lowry was tasked with speaking on behalf of the team. At least he mentioned Leonard. You could feel his discomfort as he rushed through a short burst of prepared remarks, talking over his applause lines.
Then the centrepiece – the unveiling of the champion banner. The spotlight moment and countdown were wonderful (since Lowry had the sense to include the crowd – the first time it had been invited to do anything but cheer mindlessly).
The banner is gilded, but not ridiculous. It was the one thing here a designer got right.
The reveal should have been a goosebumps moment. Instead, things were running behind schedule. The New Orleans Pelicans were already lining up for the anthems and the Raptors were off taking group selfies.
It was the first time that you began to worry these guys have taken Canada’s outpouring of love just a little too much to heart. Or maybe it’s just because Leonard is no longer here giving people the “get back to work” death stare.
A championship ceremony is not really about the team. The players can (and presumably have) celebrated themselves in private.
A championship ceremony is done in public and therefore falls into the category of ‘work.’ This was meant to be a moment to celebrate all the people who were packing this arena back in the bad old days. Had they not been there then, it’s unlikely the Masai Ujiris and Kawhi Leonards would have ended up here at all.
Without the fans, inside and outside the building, the Raptors had no incentive to try so hard. In some very tangible way, they helped win an NBA championship.
Tuesday night was an especially poor moment for the team to forget all about them.