Can the Toronto Raptors Build a Rivalry That Lasts?

James BorbathContributor ISeptember 2, 2012

28 Feb 1999:  Bryant Reeves #50 of the Vancover Grizzlies getting set to take a free throw during the game against the Denver Nuggets at the McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Grizzlies 116-112.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When you think of the Raptors who are their rivals? It is a vital missing piece to the Raptors franchise identity. Maybe this young new group can find a lasting rival. If you're saying they have a rivalry with the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat, sorry to say that is not a rivalry.

To be a true rival, you have to beat the other team once in awhile for an extended period of time. Raptors have not beaten the Heat since Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach. They did beat the Celtics last year, but since the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, those wins have come few and far between.

The Raptors have had many short term rivals. Upon entering the league, the Raptors naturally formed a rivalry against its expansion cousins, the Vancouver Grizzlies. This rivalry was geographically-driven as both teams were home to cities in Canada. Vancouver and Toronto already had established rivalries in other leagues like the NHL. They also have a strange situation in the CFL currently where the Argos and the Lions are owned by the same guy. 

The Raptors in the beginning were much better than the Grizzlies. However, for whatever reason Toronto always seemed to have trouble beating them. In fact, they split each of the season series in their first 3 NBA years sharing Canada as their home base. They only played once in the shortened lockout season in 1999, a game the Raptors won. It was not until 2001 when the Raptors claim both wins in a season.

That was also the last year the Grizzlies would call Vancouver home, effectively ending its rivalry with the Raptors upon relocation to Memphis. Many people hope the rivalry may one day rise from the ashes with a new Vancouver NBA team, but for now, this rivalry has gone into hibernation like a bear with the Raptors holding a 7-4 all-time winning edge.

The Raptors moved on from this rivalry breakup around the same time the Grizzlies left and forged new rivals in the postseason. The Knicks and Raptors faced each other in the first round of the Eastern Conference in back-to-back years. Those were the days when the first round was still a best-of-5 series.

In their first quarterfinals series against each other, the Knicks swept the Raptors who just debuted in that postseason. The second was an epic 5-game first round series in which the Raptors were victorious; however, this will be the team's sole playoff series victory in its franchise history to date. This rivalry led on for a few years of intense battles between the clubs.

After their series victory over the Knicks, the Raptors faced the Sixers in what would be considered by some as the best playoff series that was not a Conference Final or an NBA Final. Vince Carter and Allen Iverson had a duel for the ages. Both had 50-point plus scoring performances in that series.

Raptor fans remember Carter who attended his North Carolina graduation that day missing a corner 3-point buzzer beater in Game 7. Iverson subsequently ran down the floor, signaling with his hand that his team is No. 1. Later it turned out they were only No. 2 as Iverson and his Sixers had no answers for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. This particular series lead to some heated games for a few years between Toronto and Philadelphia, but it would soon fizzle as would Carter's career in Toronto.


There exists this idea that Toronto's rival is whatever team Carter plays for. Raptor Nation booed Carter when he teamed up with Canadian Steve Nash during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns in 2011. It was a fun cheering of Nash followed by a booing of Carter, which sounded like a WWE live event.

Unfortunately, the theory was not tested this 2012 season as the Raptors never played the Mavs, Carter's current team, in Toronto. The Raptor fan base had to go a season without having the opportunity to boo Carter in their home court.

Raptor fans, though, similarly strongly hated another player prior to Carter leaving. The Orlando Magic have been the Raptors' on-and-off rivals. The rivalry was instigated by a young Tracy McGrady signing with Orlando a mere minute after midnight when free agency began in 2000.

Some people forget just how much T-Mac was hated by the Raptors Faithful. I remember it was some of the loudest booing I may have ever heard directed at anyone prior to Carter. This sentiment would last a few years, at least with the Magic.

The rivalry would be reborn when Carter found his way from New Jersey to Orlando. It was also fueled by Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard head-to-head match-ups. Bosh and Howard faced each other in a playoff series in which the Magic won in 5 games.

Carter, prior to his stint in Orlando, had been traded to the New Jersey Nets by the Raptors. The two teams competed for an intense 6-game playoff series in which the Nets came out on top.


The Raptors are like that guy who can't commit to a relationship. They just constantly change rivals like most people change socks. How on earth can we find a team that we love to hate and loves to hate us in return? How do we find this team that would make victories that much sweeter?

I know you're expecting some answers on who that will be. The honest answer to that is I am not sure. When you look within the Atlantic Division the Sixers seem the team that is most like the Raptors. Let's get that old rivalry back on track.

Doug Collins has made them a much better defensive team since taking over as head coach in 2011. They also have a lot of young talent like the Raptors. Another team that might fit the bill as a rival could be the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors and Bucks could be part of a battle to make the post season this year, and maybe that sparks something?

I am pretty sure that back in 1995 we all thought the Raptors would have developed some true rivals by now, but it has never really panned out for the long term. If you disagree, who do you consider the Raptors rival? The joking negative fans might say the Los Angeles Clippers, but even they now seem to have turned the corner thanks to Chris Paul.The Clippers seem on the rise and no longer appear to be comparable the Raptors' lack of success.

A personal ad in the newspaper might look something like the following:

Long time NBA franchise seeks team to hate and compete with. Must be willing to commit to a long distance relationship as we live in a different country. Interested teams please let us know. We will thank you for your help.

After all the Raptors are the team that represents Canada in the NBA, so it makes sense to be polite and thank a would be foe.