Toronto has always been known as a hockey town. The wide-reaching brand of the Toronto Maple Leafs consumes nearly every sports bar, home television and water cooler discussion during peak sports season.
But had two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash signed with the Toronto Raptors, and not the L.A. Lakers, the popularity of basketball could have taken a significant step towards becoming as meaningful as the Maple Leafs to the Toronto sports identity.
The Raptors have been a team stuck in insignificance since the departure of Vince Carter. With two trips to the playoffs since 2004, Toronto fans have had little to be excited about.
But the future looked bright for Canada’s team, as Raptor brass appeared to be pulling out all the stops to coax Steve Nash towards signing a new contract with them. Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo had been pitching the Raptors unique ability to cement Nash’s legacy in Canadian basketball. Colangelo even recruited Wayne Greztky to help in persuade Nash to sign with Toronto, with Gretzky likening what his time with the Los Angeles Kings meant to U.S. hockey to the impact Steve Nash could have on Canadian basketball.
Was making that extra push to sign Steve Nash the right basketball decision for the Raptors? That’s a tough question to answer. With the current roster, the Raptors have the talent to possibly compete for a low-seeded playoff spot, but more than likely end up with a lottery draft pick. But with Nash, the Raptors would have gotten a boost on offense (an area of concern from last season) and likely made the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
But bringing in Steve Nash meant more than just winning and losing. It meant beginning a new chapter in Toronto Raptors history. It would have been one of the first times a major free agent chose to play for the Raptors. Bringing in Nash would have created a larger fan base, giving management more money to spend on further improvements to the team. A more prominent fan base could turn Toronto into a free agent destination, with the city already praised by players around the league for its culture, entertainment and nightlife, as well as it’s winning attitude, demonstrated by the pursuit of the former MVP.
No one is saying that Steve Nash was the final piece to a Toronto Raptors an NBA championship. But he offered something else vitally important to the franchise’s future: relevancy in the Toronto sports market.
Time for plan B, Raptors.