CODY PUNTER: #WeThe(Actual)North

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I don’t tend to get homesick. But for the past few weeks I have had Toronto on my mind. And it isn’t because I’m tired of the fog we’ve had for the past week. It’s because for the first time in my life I am following the NBA finals.

A group of youth play basketball just before midnight ahead of the Raptors’ Game 5 showdown against the Golden State Warriors on Monday.

Like so many people in Rankin Inlet, I am a diehard hockey fan. During the regular season I try and watch as many Leafs games as possible. When they inevitably get kicked out in the first round by Boston I turn my attention to watch the true contenders duke it out for the Stanley Cup.

But this year I’ve been turning my attention to a new contender: the Toronto Raptors.

I was just a nine-years-old when the Raptors first entered in the NBA in 1995. Although they made it to the playoffs once in a while, the team was never really that good. But this team is different story. Now that they are one game away from winning the biggest prize in basketball I am finding myself sucked into games with an intensity usually reserved for my boys in blue.

I know I’m not the only one. I have met lots of people in Rankin who are forsaking the beloved Stanley Cup finals to watch “Canada’s Team”. One person told me Game 1 of the final, which the Raptors won at home, was the first basketball game he’d ever watched from start to finish. Another one told me he was watching basketball now because the are a Canadian team.

Compared to the NHL, which has seven Canadian teams, the NBA’s only team is the Raptors.

Their “We The North” slogan may seem a bit ridiculous to some given that Toronto is less than 100 miles from the American border.

Nonetheless people from coast, to coast, to coast are embracing the team – even Albertans are getting behind Toronto. Just the other day on CBC North’s Facebook I saw a photo Merv Gruben, the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, showing a group of people posing with a “We The North” banner under a sign of the Arctic Ocean. It was accompanied by the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #WeThe(Actual)North.

It’s hard to argue that the heart of the country’s true North lies far above the confines of its largest city. In fact the exact geographical centre of Canada is not far from Baker Lake. Fittingly, it was last weekend Baker Lake hosted its 11th annual Kemp Memorial tournament in honour of one of the community’s most celebrated basketball players.

As someone born and raised in Toronto it has been heartwarming to see people across the country rally around my hometown. Two of the three comments under Gruben’s photo from the shores of the Arctic Ocean sum up my sentiments nicely.

“So great. Truly the North. Respect from Toronto,” reads one. “Thank you from Toronto. One love,” reads the other.

Of course the Blue Jays won the World Series as Canada’s team in ’92, then again in ’93. That was before the dawn of social media though. For all the negativity that gets spread online, its been uplifting to see people coming together and being so positive.

I’m fortunate that if Raptors manage to win the title I’ll get to watch it from Canada’s actual North. But you’ll have to excuse me if my heart is in Toronto.