Almost 25 years since its original logo was unveiled, the Toronto Raptors are a part of the fabric of the North.
On May 15, 1994, a confident John Bitove announced the “newest, freshest and hungriest look in the NBA,” while surrounded by tropical plants on a stage at Ontario Place’s Cinesphere during a half-hour TV special. The screen cut to show the first-person perspective of something quickly moving through a forest, arriving at a basketball arena. A curtain was pulled down and the Toronto Raptors name and logo were finally revealed following a months-long national naming contest.
The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) first team outside of the U.S. launched its merch line the very next day, with items being sold in stores across five continents in more than 40 countries. Canadian retailers sold everything from T-shirts to caps to coffee cups and shot glasses. About 100,000 T-shirts per week were being produced, according to a 1994 Toronto Star report.
“There was a real buzz in the city. Basketball was kind of reaching its zenith in terms of fandom,” recalls Rod Black, sportscaster and host of the Raptors’ unveiling, which took place 25 years ago this spring. “[However] people were cautiously optimistic this would work.”
There was good reason to be cautious. The Vancouver Grizzlies team came to Canada during the same heady era as the Raptors. But the country’s second NBA team didn’t last, leaving for Memphis by 2001.
But before all of that, Raptors founder Bitove – along with fellow majority co-owner Allan Slaight and minority owners David Peterson, Phil Granovsky and Borden Osmak of the Bank of Nova Scotia – were true believers that the Toronto Raptors (and basketball) would not only survive, but thrive, here. They were right, but it wasn’t easy.