Photo By: Joshua Chua from Unsplash
An unforgettable chapter in Toronto Raptors’ basketball history was closed this summer when franchise legend and long time starting point guard Kyle Lowry decided to take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.
Lowry spent nine seasons with the Raptors. During this time, he became the team’s all-time leader in assists, steals, and three-pointers. He also ranks just behind DeMar DeRozan in both points and games played. Despite his impressive statistical resume, the six-time All-Star’s impact undoubtedly extends even beyond the 94 feet of hardwood at Scotiabank Arena.
Lowry came to Toronto as something of a cast-off, having been passed over by both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets in favour of other point guards. Lowry also carried with him concerns about his conditioning and attitude towards coaches as a 26-year-old with a somewhat turbulent start to his NBA career. In the summer of 2012, Lowry was traded to the Raptors in exchange for Gary Forbes and a future first-round pick (who later became Steven Adams). Quite a low return for a player who transformed himself into a future Hall of Famer.
Lowry started his tenure with the Raptors coming off the bench for veteran Jose Calderon, and Lowry himself assumed that Toronto would be nothing more than a pitstop. Once Rudy Gay was traded away from Toronto in 2013, Lowry seemed to be next to go in the fire sale that General Manager Masai Ujiri seemed to be hosting.
An infamous trade was nixed by the New York Knicks which would have sent Lowry to the Big Apple. Instead, Lowry went on to spur an improbable winning streak which propelled the Raptors into the 2014 postseason. One of the lasting images of that run was Lowry laying flat on his back in the (then) Air Canada Centre at the end of a first round game seven loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Lowry had had his potential game winning shot attempt blocked by perennial Raptor killer Paul Pierce. Once Lowry came to his feet, he and the team were applauded by the Raptors’ faithful for their efforts that year.
Over the next few seasons, the Raptors and Lowry sustained success over the regular seasons, while suffering disappointing losses in the postseasons. This caused some fans to turn on Lowry at times, consistently alleging that his style of play was not transferable to the playoffs. After a third consecutive postseason exit at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors brass shook things up mightily by trading DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard and replacing long-time Coach Dwane Casey with Nick Nurse.
Anyone who lived in Canada during the spring of 2019 knows what happened next. As memorable as that championship run was, Lowry’s role in it all can not be overstated. Kyle seemed to have a hunger in him that was unmatched, and he would not be deterred from his goal. This is demonstrated perfectly when the then 34-year-old guard came out like a house on fire in game six of the 2019 NBA Finals, scoring 11 points in a row, and providing his team with the spark they needed to close out the series.
A few memories of Lowry’s run during that playoffs always stick out to me. The moment in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals, where Kyle seemed to be overcome with jubilation, realizing he’d be playing in his first Finals. Then, during the trophy ceremony, to hear the crowd at Scotiabank Arena, many of whom had undoubtedly experienced plenty of ups and downs in their feelings about Lowry over the years, serenading his surname and showing their appreciation for him. This seemed to be the turning point, where Lowry became not just a star, but a franchise icon who was beloved across the city and the country. Finally, after the NBA Finals, Serge Ibaka made sure that Kyle was the first man to hoist the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, and the ear to ear smile that followed. These are images which will forever live on in the hearts and minds of Raptors fans everywhere when they look back fondly on the Kyle Lowry era.
Since the 2019 Championship, Lowry still had his fair share of brilliant performances, including a 53-minute masterclass in game six of 2020’s second round series against the Boston Celtics. Despite the team’s losing season in 2021, Lowry still showed flashes of the competitive, chip-on-his-shoulder, do-anything-to-win underdog throughout the season, and it was always a welcome sight for the beleaguered fans this year.
Lowry’s departure from the team has been imminent for some time, so it was no surprise when he announced that he’d be heading south for the next three years. Still, many fans can not help but to be upset at their superstar’s exit. It will be challenging for many to see Lowry don a new jersey, but the standing ovation in his first game back in Toronto is sure to rival the sights and sounds of Jurassic Park during that 2019 run. This may all seem dramatic for an article on an NBA player picking a new team, but I’m sure that many Raptors die hard fans feel the same way.
Kyle Lowry has done so much for this team, for basketball fans in Toronto, and across the country. Even though he’s moved on, his impact will be felt for years to come.