While not the most recent NBA champion, this book on the Toronto Raptors was an enjoyable read and their second round win in game 7 against Philadelphia is a moment etched in my basketball memory. Here is my review of a book on the Raptors, "We the North"
Title/Author: “We the North: 25 Years of the Toronto Raptors” by Doug Smith
Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review: When one thinks of sports in Canada in general and Toronto in particular, the first one that comes to mind is hockey. Yet, while the city’s NHL team has not won a title since 1967, the Toronto Raptors of the NBA won the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2019 and in doing so, made it be known that basketball has a place in the country as well. Doug Smith has been reporting on the Raptors for every year of their existence and shares his stories in this book.
It is easy to see that Smith is not only very knowledgeable about the Raptors, but also about the game itself. His writing about the early days of the Raptors and how they came about illustrate not only those years about the team, but about the NBA in general. For that time frame, his accounts of what first Damon Stoudamire and later Vince Carter meant to the team and the city. It was especially nice to read about how Carter gave credibility to the team – not only for his individual achievements but also for how the team improved as well, going from the expansion growth pains to making the playoffs.
Smith is equally good when he writes about the post-Carter years and how the team seemed stuck despite finding talented players such as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. He writes glowingly about both of these players. It was really evident how much DeRozan felt a connection to the city and the team when he was crying when learning that he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 for Kawai Leonard. Smith’s writing about DeRozan almost felt like a love fest – but I won’t call it over the top because it is an accurate description of the city’s relationship with him.
The subsequent single season that Leonard spent in Toronto, capped off by the 2019 NBA championship, is covered well, but the reading is not quite as good as the human interest type of stories that fills this book. However, the best basketball writing is in this part, with a passage that compares two buzzer-beating shots in game 7’s 18 years apart in Raptors history. In 2001, Vince Carter launched a shot in game 7 of the second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. In 2019, Leonard did the same thing, in the same round of the playoffs against the same team. In 2001, the shot was close, but not good. In 2019, the ball hit the rim four times before going in. The comparison between the two was excellent – even better than Smith’s writing about the championship and subsequent celebration.
Overall, this is an enjoyable book for any basketball fan, but especially Raptors fans. Smith certainly knows the Raptors and the NBA and it shows throughout the book.