It’s been almost a week since Matt Devlin said “Canada, the NBA title is yours!”. I’m still digesting and assimilating this unprecedent moment; the Raptors are NBA champions. This was basically a crazy idea for the majority of the world, and even for myself 3 seasons ago, when I was so lucky to cover one full season with them. That 2015/2016 season was the one when the Raps reached the Conference Finals for 1st time. Now, as NBA champions, it feels like a full circle for me.
It seems like it was yesterday when I entered the former Air Canada Center for the first time, and thanks to Antonio Gil, director of Basket4us, who wanted me to just make some interviews with Spanish speakers players. I had no idea of what to do, where to go, but I got myself into the place I always wanted to be when I started dreaming about being a journalist. I remember trying to keep it cool and not showing too much excitement, “Emilio, you got here, now is time to make it count”.
The arena felt like home instantly, and the Raptors workers and Security guys made my life easier, almost every single day. Perhaps it was just the extra nice Canadian manners, but my initial fears went away after the first day. I remember when I started meeting other peers, but especially Leo Rautins, or my friends from Hispanic Sports Media, Nelson and Alexis, and of course, the one and only Oscar Paratore, who has covered every Raptors season since the creation of the franchise.
I remember perfectly my first interview to the former Raptor Greivis Vasquez, with a terrible and not steady at all camera, and a terrible sound quality, which forced me to buy a new voice recorder, till I got a real microphone. I remember Nelson driving the conversation asking all the questions, and I was so pleased for that, because it helped me to go through the 1st day.
After that rookie moment, every game day into the arena was my escape from reality, my 4 hours of feeling like the journalist I always wanted to be. I remember my Spaniard interviews to Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka; who knew these last two would be NBA Champions with the Raptors 3 years later. I remember my first LeBron James game, and my 1st NBA media “not to do” lection; never post a picture of a player showing his chest with no t-shirt, or you’ll have to delete that picture.
I remember Kobe Bryant. One of my biggest idols; a player whose career I followed since the beginning, when I just was a teenager who wanted to be a NBA Journalist. So while I was fulfilling my dream I got so lucky to enjoy his last game in Toronto, and even share some words in Spanish with him. What a character, what a player, what a winner!
So many stories come to my mind about that season; stories from many players who really made an impact on me, creating lifetime memories, but today is about the Raptors, and that group of friends made me feel that something great was coming.
I remember Kyle Lowry and his ‘Brother’ DeMar DeRozan; always together, literally, making fun and always humble when winning, standing up when loosing. Also the always fancy and well dressed Patrick Patterson, the shy rookie Norman Powell, the quiet Luis Scola, the joker Jonas Valenciunas, or the ‘assistant coach’ helping the players during the shootaround, Nick Nurse, now the first head coach to win both the NBA and NBA G League titles.
I remember the start of 2 great relationships with Lucas Nogueira and Bismack Biyombo, always willing to talk after the game, and using an almost perfect Spanish. ‘Bis’ was very often the slowest player to take a shower and get ready after the games, and I will never forget Kyle Lowry making jokes about it with me, while I was at the same time the last journalist standing in the locker room; “You’re still waiting for the princess right? (big laughs)”.
What a group of people. They weren’t NBA stars, but they were a star as a team. That year we all thought that they could reach the NBA Finals, but a basketball alien called LeBron wanted another ring, and made the difference, the same guy who said “I’ve never been part of something like this. This is unveliebeble” when he witnessed the full ACC crowd chanting “Let’s go Raptors” for 5 minutes even after being eliminated.
That was the experience of a lifetime for me. 40+ home games, and a crazy 1-day road-trip Toronto to Cleveland for the Conference Finals with Nelson and Oscar. It was an experience I’ve always remembered during the last 3 seasons and from outside, but especially during these past playoffs and Finals; a historic moment for me, coming back to journalism thanks to Tirando a Fallar, for a city, for a country, and for another amazing group of players that helped me in one way or another to close an amazing full circle. The Toronto Raptors are NBA Champions. We got ’em!!!