The Toronto Raptors have won the NBA Championship.
Simply typing that sentence feels nonsensical, akin to “wombat appointed new prime minister” or “piece of bread pens bestselling novel”. The words make sense, sure, but there’s no meaning behind it. It’s not a feasible thing, it wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.
It did happen.
This group of loveable losers, who have spent the better part of the decade comfortably in the upper echelon without any real title aspirations, staved off every threat that came their way.
Orlando were supposed to prove the Raptors were little more than a paper tiger, capable of crumpling like they had in a disastrous first-round sweep courtesy of Washington in 2015.
Philadelphia had raw talent all coming together at the right time, the kind that Toronto surely couldn’t match. Milwaukee was the best team in the league, with the dazzling Giannis Antetokounmpo at the helm.
Even when the Raptors managed to dispatch of these foes, sometimes convincingly, the dream was meant to end there.
Golden State was diminished by the loss of Kevin Durant, but they seemed unfazed as they blitzed through the playoffs, disassembling the Portland Trail Blazers like a shoddy piece of furniture. By winning the Western Conference Finals in a clean sweep, the Warriors were able to rest, recuperate and lick their lips as they watched Milwaukee and Toronto bludgeon one another.
The Raptors put together four straight wins of their own en route to the NBA Finals, and the stage was set: what many assumed to be a formality before Golden State claimed their third championship in a row, and fourth in five years.
Toronto had a great deal to be proud of, putting together a whimsical Cinderella run to get to the final stage. Maybe they’d claw out a win or two and drag things out before Steph Curry buried them with his trademark sharpshooting.
Once the teams faced off at Scotiabank Arena for Game 1, it was clear very early on that something was amiss. In what would be a tone setter for the series to come, Toronto absolutely outplayed Golden State, suffocating the Warriors defensively and implementing spectacular ball movement to find the open man.
For most of the NBA Finals, the Warriors seemed more like the plucky underdogs, scoring in batches and never really seeming comfortable out on the court.
If a layperson watched these games without context, they could be forgiven for thinking Toronto was the team with the championship pedigree. Sure, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green had done it before, but that was with a supporting cast of future hall of famers in San Antonio.
Fast forward a few years, and Kawhi had become damaged goods with no certainty of success, while Green was thrown into the blockbuster DeMar DeRozan trade like a cheap prize in a cereal box.
In place of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, there was a motley crew of misfits, many of whom are completely anonymous to the casual fan. Kyle Lowry was a high motor overachiever who lacked the athleticism to join the elite. Pascal Siakam had been a nonfactor just one season ago. Marc Gasol lived in the shadow of his older brother Pau; a 7-foot, Spanish version of Luigi.
But it just didn’t matter. Toronto may not have been the better team on paper, but they absolutely were the better team on the court, where championships are won.
For years, talking heads can bemoan the circumstances surrounding the result, throwing the word “asterisk” around like it meant something. In actuality, it has just as much meaning as the aforementioned political wombat and verbose baked item: understandable in the literal sense, but beyond that, pure gobbledygook.
There is only one NBA champion crowned every season. And this year, that distinction belongs to the Toronto Raptors.