From the New York Times opinion page:
The Raptors Win, and Canada Learns to Swagger
On Thursday night, “We the North” became more than just a slogan.
By Omer Aziz
Mr. Aziz is a writer.
June 14, 2019
TORONTO — On Thursday night, when the Toronto Raptors won the N.B.A. championship in Oakland, Calif., the streets of Canada erupted in a patriotic euphoria that I’d never seen before. It was the first time that a Canadian team had made it to the N.B.A. finals, and Yonge Street, in the heart of Toronto, was a multiracial mosh pit. Thousands of people were hugging and chanting, “We the North.”
There were turbans and hijabs and the echoes of diverse accents. Everyone was represented, and everyone was representing.
I stopped among the rush of bodies, and took it all in. At a time when the news is filled with racism and nationalism, here we were, with all our differences, celebrating like family. Never had I felt more connected to our flag, to this country. It was as though with this victory, a city — and a country — had found its identity.
… In a very Canadian sort of way, we doubted whether it was even real. Could we actually win? There is an insecurity to Canadians that came from always being America’s runner-up. “Why is a brother up north better than Jordan / That ain’t get that break,” Jadakiss once rapped — a line that could be applied to all the imprisoned ambitions in Canada.
… You saw the black and brown and white and Asian kids cheering outside the arena and you saw the future of this land.
One day, you might see the child of one of the 60,000 Syrian refugees brought here, see her in a basketball uniform, and you will know that she belonged here the minute she was born. You saw the night when “We the North” became more than just a slogan.
Sports is about national identity, and who counts. Canada long marketed itself as a tundra of hockey players. It was a white Anglo-French duopoly where the words “indigenous” and “immigrant” were excised from the national narrative. But lately hockey has become too expensive to play, and the children of immigrants have turned to basketball.
Shooting hoops in the rugged Toronto suburbs of my youth, my friends and I often felt as if there was little to strive for beyond that court. We played basketball because there was no room for us in the other institutions of Canadian society. Many of us did not quite know what our country stood for, or where we fit inside it. We didn’t know our own story. That’s why people were so polite here; we were unsure of who we were.
… So many of us here carry the burdens of migration and know what it means to be strangers in our own skins. This quilted heritage of cultures and histories gives Toronto its unique immigrant ethos, along with the street vernacular of West Indian patois and African-American English. It does not matter where I am standing, when I hear someone say, “Wa’gwan, bruh,” or “What’s good,” I know immediately that we share a private language. We know that we were once displaced, but only recently have we discovered, in all our formless anxiety, that the story of our immigrant lives is now the story of our country.
When we chanted, “We the North,” we meant that for the first time, this city, this country, this team, belonged to us all. We had shaken off our colonial hangover, and finally embraced the swagger that came from being the outsider, the interloper.
Minorities are now a majority in Toronto. In a few decades, the country itself will be majority brown. And on the streets Thursday night we saw the future of the West. No matter what the populists say, the multicultural mixing of peoples will continue, as will the art and beauty and basketball championships that come from this diversity. Beyond the trophy, that’s the greatest victory of all.
In reality, none of the players on the Raptors were from Canada, much less Toronto. Their best player, Kawhi Leonard, was only traded to Toronto last July. He grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire and next season is more likely to be back in L.A. playing with the LeBron’s Last Chance Lakers than still with Toronto.