SIMMONS: Cheers, tears as Raptors and fans celebrate banner season

Raptors players take part in the ring ceremony and banner-raising prior their season opener at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

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Serge Ibaka buried his face in his long arms and cried. He wasn’t alone.

The building was shaking in noise and emotion. Right here in quiet Toronto. Shaking. It was loud and then louder and then loudest. With cheers and then tears. A Toronto sporting night unlike any before it.

The night the rings came out and the NBA championship banner was unveiled and the celebration that went on all summer just got better. A new season begins — the old may never end.

You can’t always explain a night like this. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it. It doesn’t matter how many places you’ve been. You have to live it. You have to feel it. You have to watch. You have to take in every nuance and every twist of the pre-game video and the presentations. And then you have to take in more.

The day and night at Scotiabank Arena, the first night of the new NBA season, had a certain built-in anticipation to it. This is new for so many of us. A championship of this magnitude. A city not used to winning major titles, finally winning one after 26 years of waiting. It wasn’t just waiting — it wasn’t getting close. The Raptors had never played for a title before. The Leafs haven’t played for a title since the NHL had six teams.

The Blue Jays have not been to the World Series since Joe Carter hit the home run. It’s been a long wait. And then the incredible and impossible and the magical all came together in a whirlwind of a circumstance in once in a lifetime season, with a one-named superhero swooping into town, without a cape, lifting the team, lifting the franchise, carrying the country along for the ride.

Kawhi Leonard did that in his one season in Toronto. He was like a Springsteen concert every night he played. You never left wanting more. He delivered everything he could. Like a magician, he turned adequate into sensational, he fulfilled every aspect of the deal that brought him here. And then he left for home.

Toronto Raptors ring ceremony and banner raising for their championship season before the game in Toronto. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun

We’re left with memories and maybe some hope that is probably just a little misguided. NBA teams don’t win championships without sensational stars. This Raptors team is decent — good enough to be in the playoffs. But there’s no all-time great here, no top-10 player, no one guy who can make the impossible possible.

Last night Kawhi’s name was mentioned only once. It was appropriate somebody did. When Kyle Lowry took the microphone, after the players had been given their rings, he mentioned the players who had moved on and weren’t present for the ceremony. He mentioned Kawhi in the same sentence with Danny Green and Jeremy Lin. One of these players is not the like the others. This wasn’t the night to say any more than that.

Kawhi will get his ring when the Clippers come to town in December: Hopefully he will get the kind of recognition he is due for changing the sporting history of this city and this country.

Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry gets his ring from Larry Tannebaum at the ring ceremony and banner raising for their championship season before the game in Toronto on Tuesday October 22, 2019. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun

I’m fortunate to have covered the two World Series the Blue Jays won. Just as I was fortunate to be with the Raptors day after day in the playoffs. The three championships weren’t anything alike. The times were different, the teams were different, the expectations were different.

Before they ever won, the Blue Jays were supposed to win. They were built to win. They were, frankly, disappointing when it mattered and then they weren’t anymore. It was a time before social media, before the Jurassic Park’s of the world existed with viewing parties across the country. It wasn’t a time of gathering. The parades mattered, the titles mattered the celebrations mattered, they just weren’t anything at all like what we’ve lived through the last four months.

The banner raisings of the past didn’t feel like Tuesday night felt. Carter hit the home run in Toronto. Fred VanVleet hit a pile of jumpers in the second half to push the Raptors past Golden State in June in Oakland. There was a parade, which depending where you were and what you witnessed, that was fascinating and problematic.

But there were no problems in all that went on Tuesday night.  Oh, there were some problems. Coach Nick Nurse showed up for the first game of the season, leaving his underwear and socks at home. It wasn’t pre-game jitters as much as it was pre-game frenzy.

Toronto Raptors ring ceremony and banner raising for their championship season before the game in Toronto on Tuesday October 22, 2019. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun

And then the lights went out at Scotiabank Arena and with it the noise began. The under-siege commissioner, Adam Silver, walked out first followed by men in suits. The applause grew louder when Masai Ujiri walked out or Nurse or anyone the fans recognized before they were announced.

And blasting from the building sound system, the hip hop song The Champ Is Here. It’s a song by Jadakiss. (I know that because I looked it up.) It was the right touch for the right night.

So was the pre-ceremony video. It touched on everything. It showed great moments and moments of defeat. It showed Drake only once. It showed the biggest shots and largest reasons and so many celebrations.

The ring is huge. But it seems all championship rings are huge these days. One win seems bigger than the next one. Except this one is ours. It’s personal. It’s national. And who knows when we’ll have another year like the last one, another night like the last one? You cherish every moment on a night like this. This whole season should be nothing but applause.

ssimmons@postmedia.com

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