Photo credit: Che Bhatt (@Shay2.o on Instagram)
Full disclosure, I had two versions written depending on the outcome of free agency for the Toronto Raptors and Kyle Lowry; almost like an alternate ending to a movie.
The movie analogy is fitting for Lowry’s career.
The undersized protagonist who felt underappreciated went to a city that had the same feeling about a lack of recognition and wanted someone to love them.
And it didn’t start on the best of terms. Take it from Lowry himself in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski three years ago.
But in the end, the two became synonymous with each other.
You can’t talk about Raptors basketball without Lowry and vice versa.
But it was too perfect of a story to have a perfect ending.
The team lost a bunch of games on his way out (through no fault of his own, obviously). He didn’t get to play his final game as a Raptor in Toronto. He didn’t get to say goodbye.
I can’t pretend to know what Raptors fans are feeling.
Despite having lived in Toronto my whole life and the Raptors being my introduction to basketball — I even cheered for them in the NBA Finals! — I don’t have the connection to Kyle Lowry that you all do.
But from a distance I could see how important he was to the team, organization, and fanbase.
Still, this wasn’t my story to tell. I can’t be the one to tell Raptors fans what their greatest player ever means to them.
I needed your help to fully understand the bond that you share with Lowry.
I asked fans for their favourite Lowry moments and it was pretty unanimous.
After all the hardship and playoff struggles that the Raptors had been through in the Lowry Era, to finally get over that hump was — for the moment — the highlight.
Of course, you all know how things went in the next round.
I maintain that he had one of the coolest parade fits of all-time.
Another popular moment was the 30-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks. Lowry scored 20 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth and did it with the bench.
But who better to encapsulate that moment than a Raptors fan:
“It encompasses everything Kyle is as a player; gritty, tough, willing to mold himself into whatever his team needs in order to win. Kyle is the ultimate floor and ceiling raiser, and the Lowry plus bench comeback is in my opinion the greatest illustration of the combination of his intangibles and his pure talent.”
There were a few other moments like his reaction to winning the championship, but I thought I’d share my favourite Lowry moment and what I believe encapsulates him from an opposing fan’s perspective.
Only Lowry would try to go between someone’s legs and then be surprised that he was called for a foul.
However, what I really wanted to know was deeper than a singular moment
I wanted to know what Lowry symbolized for you, what the last nine seasons have meant to you.
Words like “heart,” “hard work,” “greatness,” and “dedication” were all used to describe the Greatest Raptor of All-Time.
Some see him as the face of the Raptors organization and what they’ve built.
“Kyle is the perfect embodiment of what it means to be a Toronto Raptor.”
“The Raptors branding seems to be made FOR HIM by stressing the underdog mentality and never giving up regardless of what people or the media may say or think about him. He has no quit. I can’t think of a Raptors organization without a Kyle Lowry in it.”
For others, he was their introduction to the Raptors.
“I moved here the year they traded for him. Fell in love with the Raptors right away and Kyle was just so easy to cheer for. The Raptors have been through so much the last nine years and Kyle has been the one constant.”
-@mitchwheeler19 on Twitter
“Kyle Lowry and the We The North Era got me interested in basketball, and Kyle showed me that you don’t have to be the biggest, strongest, most athletic player on the court. He taught me that you just need to have the determination, the drive, and never take no for an answer. His growth as a leader to a mentor means so much because I always feel like we both grew up together.”
-@dsouza_34 on Twitter
Or he represents more than basketball.
“He’s been the definition of loyal and hard-working, showing what heart can do for a team and finally reaching the goal of a chip. Very inspiring as a fan of the game.”
“He is a great example of greatness through leadership. He isn’t the GROAT because of accolades or because he has the flashiest game; he plays and leads the team with heart.”
-@janelIe_ on Twitter
“He very much feels like a representation of the everyday person, which I certainly see myself as. Not the most gifted of athletes, not extremely tall, doesn’t have an absolute perfect track record of success, took a while to find his bearings, but his flaws and how he’s been able to overcome them to have a Hall of Fame worthy career and be the undisputed GROAT make him that much more relatable and inspiring. Plus his general pettiness is a perfect match to the city.”
-@nasimali on Twitter
To sum it up in one word: he’s meant everything.
There may be no greater encapsulation to what he means than this, however.
“As a fan, Kyle defines the We The North era of Raptors basketball. He shows us all what hard work and dedication look like. He is a testament to the idea that your identity as a player, and as a person, is not stagnant. Kyle came into the Raptors seeing the team as a pit-stop, and found a home. Toronto has always been a city capable of immense love and devotion if someone would just let us, and Kyle Lowry was our opportunity to showcase that to the world. He has thread himself into the very fabric of our franchises being; there is no champion Toronto Raptors without Kyle. The word ‘culture’ in the NBA is a buzzword, but Lowry’s mentorship and constant drive to win has set the standard for players that he so generously brings into the fold here. A little piece of Kyle touches every corner of the organization. The mutual admiration and love that is so palpable between Lowry and Toronto fans hits at the very core of what our city needs; support, joy, and a fighting chance to prove greatness lies within.”
This person didn’t leave their name in the Google Form I set up and that adds so much to the mystique and general nature about this message. I like to think a group of Raptors fans came together and crafted this as their one, all-defining message about what Lowry means to them.
Back to my outsider’s perspective, I’ve probably held a different perspective on Lowry than other fanbases because I’ve witnessed the entire Lowry Era closer than most opposing fans.
I always admired him as a competitor and as a leader. I thought that as long as Lowry was playing, the Raptors weren’t out of any game and that held especially true in the 2019-2020 season.
I got to witness the narrative in this city shift from a guy who was seen by some (not all, but some!) as a guy who was a consistent playoff disappointment to undoubtedly the greatest player in the organization’s history.
But this isn’t about me.
It’s about you.
It’s about you embracing the undersized, scrappy point guard that no one wanted.
It’s about that point guard embracing a wonderful, yet flawed city where no one wanted to be.
Kyle Lowry and the city of Toronto were made for each other. Two perfectly imperfect entities that came together and formed a bond that neither will ever forget.