A Canadian team made up mainly of foreign players and cheered on by thousands of immigrants is now the best in professional basketball.
Last night saw the Toronto Raptors take their first National Basketball Association (NBA) title by defeating the six-time champion Golden State Warriors in six games.
The Raptors’ championship run garnered almost as much coverage for the diversity of its fans as the team’s prowess on the court. In recent weeks, Raptor superfan Nav Bhatia, who immigrated from India in the 1980s, has been talked about almost as much as star players Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry.
Bhatia, a Sikh who owns a number of used car dealerships in Toronto, has held season tickets since the Raptors first year in Toronto in 1995. Since then, he has given countless, mainly immigrant kids a chance to see their heroes play.
“I use the game of basketball to bring the world together,” he said in one interview.
“An immigrant has risen to be an ambassador of the Raptors,” said a fellow Sikh of Bhatia. “It shows that Toronto is all about diversity, a city where it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
Toronto is a major draw for newcomers to Canada, largely because of its long-established ethnic communities and its reputation as Canada’s most multicultural city.
Immigrants now make up 46 per cent of Toronto’s population and 51.5 per cent of the city’s residents identify themselves as “visible minority.”
Many see that diversity reflected in the Raptors.
Raptors President Masai Ujiri is from Nigeria and players Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka are from Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, respectively. Most of the team is African-American and the only white player, Marc Gasol, is from Spain. Jeremy Lin, whose roots are Taiwanese, is now the first Asian-American to win an NBA Championship ring.
“Basketball is more like what the nation is like,” a Toronto resident whose parents moved to the city from Vietnam told the New York Times recently.
David Cohen, senior partner with the Campbell, Cohn Canadian immigration law firm in Montreal, called the celebration of immigration that has taken place alongside the Raptors championship run a proud moment for the country.
“It’s been great to see so much attention on Toronto’s immigrant population and its love of basketball,” he said. “Hockey may still be Canada’s game, but it’s got some serious competition now!”