By AMITHA KALAICHANDRAN, M.D. June 14, 2019
James Naismith was a young Canadian pre-med when he decided to try something: hang a fruit-basket at either end of a Springfield, Massachusetts gymnasium and challenge players to get a ball into the basket. Eventually, tired of taking a ladder to climb up and retrieve the ball each time someone scored, he sawed a hole in the bottom of each basket. Basketball was born: the year was 1891, and Naismith was just 30. Naismith went on to medical school but continued to help refine the game, even writing its first rulebook while coaching at the University of Kansas. While most of my peers in medicine now also have passion projects, Naismith was ahead of his time balancing his interest in medicine with his passion for innovation. Growing up, our ‘Heritage minute’ TV commercials would feature his invention prominently on most major TV networks.
Fast forward to November 1, 1946, and the first NBA game took place in Toronto: The Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers (Toronto lost by two points). But over the years Canadians would watch from afar as the league continued to develop teams across the U.S., leaving Canada out in the dark years before “FOMO” was a thing. Until 1995 that is. An announcement I was just old enough to remember: Canada would be getting two NBA teams. The Vancouver Grizzlies, named after the bears that roam Canada’s North, and the Toronto Raptors, a nod to prehistoric findings concentrated in Canada. Canadians in the Eastern part of Canada tended to support the Raptors, with the West coast being loyal to the Grizzlies. Vancouver would see legends like Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Big Country. The Raptors on the other hand would get Damon Stoudamire (the “Mighty Mouse” who earned rookie of the year in 1995–96 season), Tracy McGrady, and the divisive Vince Carter in its early years. Coaches would come and go, punctuating the eras from Brendan Malone, to Butch Carter (no relation to Vince), to Lenny Wilkens, and Dwane Casey.
No longer just a mandatory high school gym class activity, basketball would become popular in small towns and big cities across Canada. It would slowly become a ‘Canadian game’ again, one which, compared to hockey, had a much lower financial barrier of entry to join. After all, to play basketball, one just needed a ball, a few friends, and a court in a local park. Kids across the country, such as myself and my siblings, had players, right in their own backyard, to look up to. When Vancouver…