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Canadians In The NBA

Canadians in the NBA

Now in its 75th year, it could be argued that the NBA is more popular than ever. Their social media following trumps many of their competitor leagues and many of the league’s players are major celebrities in their own right. While Canada has always had a strong influence on the NBA, the Canadian cohort has grown even stronger over the last number of years. This season, a record 19 Canada-born players earned starting spots on the opening night of the NBA season.

The Toronto Raptors lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2019 was a watershed moment for Canadian sports. However, some diehard fans don’t know that the first ever NBA game was played in Toronto. On November 1st 1946, the Toronto Huskies faced off against the New York Knicks at Maple Leaf Gardens in front of a crowd of just over 7000 fans. On that occasion the Knicks ran out winners on a scoreline of 68-66 with their player Ossie Schectman recording the first points of the game.

In 2021, the Knicks hosted the Raptors to commemorate that first game as part of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary celebrations. On this occasion it was the Toronto side that ran out victors with a 113-104 win. In this article, we are going to take a look at some of the Canadian franchises and players that have helped shaped the NBA.

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The Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are the only Canadian-based team in the league. The franchise was founded in 1995 as part of the NBA’s expansion into Canada alongside the Vancouver Grizzlies. However, the Grizzlies’ stint in the league was shortlived as the franchise was relocated to Memphis in in 2001. Toronto currently play their home games in the Scotiabank Arena which they share with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. They spent the 2021 season in Tampa due to COVID restrictions.

The Raptors held the tag of fan favourite for many throughout their 25+ years in the league. Big name players like Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Kawhi Leonard have all spent time this side of the border and the likeable duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan sustained the franchise for many season.

Of course the highlight of their franchise history is that championship win in 2019. Nick Nurse’s Raptors finished second in the Eastern Conference before running through the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors on their way to the NBA title. Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater in the Eastern Conference 2nd Round will live long in the memory.

The 2021-2022 Raptors squad features three Canadians – Dalano Banton, Khem Birch and Chris Boucher.

Andrew Wiggins

The No.1 pick from the 2014 NBA Draft and the 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year is a native of Vaughan, Ontario. After spending five and half seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Golden State Warriors in February 2020. He has become an important member of the Warriors’ starting five and has helped the team to a league-best 16-2 start at the time of writing.

So far in his career, he has only featured once in the NBA playoffs. However, the Golden State Warriors look like legitimate championship contenders and they are second favourites in the betting with at the time of writing. Wiggins may be adding to the list of Canadian NBA winners in 2022.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was born in Toronto but played his high-school basketball in Tennessee. He played one season of college basketball at the University of Kentucky before declaring for the NBA Draft. On draft night, he was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 11th pick before immediately being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. He showed plenty of promise in his two seasons in Los Angeles, earning a place on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.

Before the start of the 2019-2020 season he was traded to OKC as part of a package which saw Paul George heading to Los Angeles. Gilgeous-Alexander made great strides alongside Chris Paul in that season and has now taken the reigns of the franchise alongside fellow Canadian Luguentz Dort. SGA signed 5-year $172 million rookie extension before the 2021 season. A future All-Star in the making.

Tristan Thompson

Brampton-born Thompson played an integral part in the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 triumph. The former No.4 draft pick spent the first nine years of his professional career in Cleveland before moving to the Boston Celtics and currently plies his trade with the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference.

Thompson was known as a bit of an ironman during his time in Cleveland. He played 447 consecutive games between his rookie season and 2017, where he missed out on four games due to a thumb injury.

Steve Nash

No article on Canadians in the NBA would be complete without a mention of 2-time MVP Steve Nash. Nash was born in Johannesburg, South Africa but grew up in Victoria, British Columbia and holds Canadian citizenship. Currently the head coach of NBA favourites Brooklyn Nets, Nash had a glittering playing career with the Phoenix Suns (twice), Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers.

He is the only Canadian to be named as the MVP of the league and is the second Hall of Famer after Bob Houbregs. He is an 8-time NBA All-Star and 8-time All NBA player as well as being the league assist leader for five seasons in the mid-2000s. In 2021, he was named on the NBA’s list of greatest player of the 75 years.

He took up his first head coaching job in 2020 with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. They are heavily fancied to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season.

Active Canadian Players in the NBA

There is a strong cohort of active Canadian players in the NBA aside from the players already mentioned. The injured Jamal Murray is a leading player with the Denver Nuggets, Kelly Olynyk has proved to a valuable player throughout his career while players like Dillon Brooks, Oshae Brisset, Brandon Clarke and RJ Barrett all look set to have a long professional career ahead of them.

Betting on the NBA in Canada

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