With our gloomy past, wearing Raptors gear always caught you flack. You had to be ready to defend from the various haters waiting to pick apart the team. In the city, it was always seen as the third tier franchise behind our baseball and hockey team. To the other basketball fans outside the country, it was known as the laughing stock franchise of the NBA. No one took us seriously. We were playoff chokers; Endlessly owned by Lebron. Playoff gatekeepers, not contenders.
We as fans adopted many of the characteristics shown by the former teams when wearing our hearts on our sleeves. When the team played scared, we cheered, but with the fear of another heartbreak. When the players shrunk in the moment, we did too. Wearing Raptors merch symbolized all of those things in one jersey – postseason failure and embarrassment.
For years the organization has tried everything to shake it’s image and logo to lean more towards cool. They brought on The Boy as the Global Ambassador when the higher ups rebranded the team. They outlined our jerseys with edgy colours such as gold and black. The practice uniforms now feature the October’s Very Own owl. Our merchandise is some of the most aesthetically pleasing in the association. Yet for all of it’s cool points, it could not shake the organizations past. We had some good teams wearing our jerseys, but the outcome was always the same.
In professional sports, winning cures everything. Since advancing to the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history, the Raptors logo has been recontextualized. This is the moment when it turned.
The day after the biggest win in franchise history, Raptors gear was everywhere. Endless Kawhi Leonard Jerseys. We The North tees on every street and corner. A constant stream of hoodies featuring dinosaurs. If you wore Raptors apparel in years past, it was easy to strike a conversation on how the team was going to blow it. Now having the same Lowry jersey on your back ignites multiple daps and chats about how we’re finally gonna win a ring. Context is everything in clothing. It’s even more meaningful when it comes to sports memorabilia. The jerseys and shirts become public emblems. You’re signifying your allegiance. You’re communicating that you are heavily invested. No matter how corny it looks for a grown ass adult to be rocking a basketball jersey with pants. You’re all in.
I understand our fatalistic mindset as a devout Raptors fan. The mentality that even before tip off the outcome is already predetermined with a loss. But guess what? That’s over with. We’ve arrived. We deserve the right to cheer courageously in our Raptors gear. So for the next few weeks when you wear your jerseys, tees, and hoodies, it no longer equates to disappointment. It stands for belief. An unwavering confidence that finally, we can win a championship.