Living in Toronto is a bit like being the world’s most famous euchre player. It’s, like, good for you, but ultimately no one cares, because no one cares about euchre. When you live in Toronto and travel somewhere new, you often have to tolerate a few condescending signs that the person you’re speaking with has never really thought about your city before. “Toronto,” they say, pronouncing all the T’s instead of none of them at all, the way the Lord intended. “In Canada!” they follow up, as if the whole country is just a small town and there are no provinces or territories to speak of. Then they talk about their friend in Vancouver, which is a four and a half hour flight away from Toronto.
I lived in Toronto for a decade, up until very recently, and I can confirm that Toronto is indeed the centre (that’s how you spell it here, I’m not going to argue with you on this, you’re in my house now) of the Canadian universe, but, you know, it’s still just the Canadian universe: slightly colder, the money is all purple, everyone is remarkably passive-aggressive.
So you should forgive Toronto, and, frankly, most of the country, for getting this giddy about the Toronto Raptors advancing to the NBA Finals. In the team’s 24 years of existence, it’s never made it this far, and as the country’s only NBA team, the Raptors have made more adults burst into tears in the last few weeks than I have seen at any funeral I’ve been to in my entire life.
And do you know whom we have to thank for this? For us getting this far, regardless of what happens in the next few games against the Golden State Warriors (a seemingly unbeatable team that will probably destroy us but who cares, it’s about the journey, not the destination)? Drake. We have to thank Drake. We have to, even if we don’t want to.
I can’t deny that Drake has been doing The Absolute Most for nearly a full year of Raptors games. He’s yelling at other players, mocking them with his garment choices, giving the Raptors’ head coach a shoulder massage after making it to the finals, making the Bucks’ coach’s daughter his Instagram avatar, and generally needing to be restrained from running onto the court or starting a dogpile with the rest of the players. He’s our collective embarrassing little brother with too much energy, and our mom isn’t keeping him in line, and he’s really humiliating us in front of all the older kids at school. We know. We know.
There’s been a lot of moaning over Drake’s courtside antics. “It is perhaps the only thing we can all agree upon as a nation, if not an entire species existing within an interconnected biosphere,” wrote Lindsay Zoladz for the Ringer, whom I regret to say clearly didn’t consult anyone north of Detroit. “Drake needs to cool it when sitting courtside at basketball games.” The NBA gave him a talking to during the Eastern Conference finals, which isn’t the first time officials had to warn him about lipping off. The Washington Post told us to “ignore Drake for the rest of what could be a memorable series between the Raptors and Warriors.” A Bay area radio station is refusing to play Drake’s music during the final series. Last year, the Toronto Sun told Drake to “sit down, shut up, stop posing for the cameras, and acting like you’re part of the show.”
Smash Mouth is, for some reason, also upset.
Drake has a kind of unprecedented role with the Raptors. Of course it’s kind of perplexing how often the camera swerves to him, how often he jumps out of his seat, how frequently his clothing is newsworthy. He often, literally, toes the line on the court. What is he exactly? Court jester? Mascot? Part owner? Purposeful distraction to whip the other team up? Who cares. Just let us have him. You get enough. Just give us this one thing. Toronto sports teams, Canada as a whole on a global scale, culturally — we don’t get a lot despite our plentiful but largely ignored contributions. We gave you Schitt’s Creek and you haven’t shut up about it since. Just let us have this.
Look, I’m not going to pretend to be anything other than a bandwagoner here. Sports, for the most part, are dumb and boring, and heterosexual cisgender men like to pretend these games are somehow more intellectual than me watching Lisa Vanderpump and Adrienne Maloof fight at a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion even though nothing requires more skill and agility than having a conversation with Lisa “Bobby Fischer” Vanderpump. Basketball is somewhat of an exception, in that it is at least not football, which is never interesting, no matter how high the stakes. (I say this as the wife of an insufferable Patriots fan, whom I consider divorcing every fall, like clockwork. He kissed me harder when they won their fifth ring than he did on our wedding day. Don’t think I didn’t notice, Scott.)
But the real bandwagon I’m jumping on isn’t so much supporting the Raptors now that they’re actually playing well and are no longer more famous for having a logo that looks like a Flintstones Dino vitamin brought to life. (By the way, looking up the correct spelling of “Flintstones” resulted in my evisceration on Twitter, so the least you can do for me is root for the Raptors for the remainder of the series.) I’m jumping on the bandwagon that argues that, actually, Canada is great. We’re great and we deserve this because we’re great.
Very rarely, if ever, do I engage in any kind of national pride. Canada is an inherently flawed country that gets trotted out as the US’s better, kinder, softer little sister, despite the fact that Canada is still pretty racist, sexist, classist, and genocidal, if only more quiet about it. But now and then, I climb on the patriotism bandwagon. I grab a seat when any Canadian team is playing against any American team. I’m there when someone in the current American city I live in tries to tell me that universal health care is somehow worse than going into debt for basic lab tests. I’m onboard when someone says “Choate,” as if I’m supposed to know or care where or what that is and why it matters, which it doesn’t; your high school absolutely does not matter. Do I get on the bandwagon only when convenient to me? Absolutely. It is my right as a brown Canadian. What are you, a cop? Go Raptors.
We gave you Drake, a perfect encapsulation of what being Canadian often means: fortunate, but somehow kind of a scrappy underdog. Canadians are supposed to be polite and calm, so no wonder a lot of the pushback for Drake’s behavior comes from Americans who are accustomed to owning the lion’s share of obnoxious public conduct. Is he doing anything worse than what the average American fan does during any kind of sporting event? Is a dancing, gleeful Drake worse than the part owner of the Warriors who pushed Kyle Lowry during Game 3? Is he any more distracting than fucking Gritty?
Canada has given you everything. We gave you Celine Dion and Saturday Night Live and a good ally in, like, a ton of wars. And what do we get in return? Worse Netflix, no Hulu, geoblocked YouTube videos, and incessant mocking over the fact that we use Celsius, an objectively better method of explaining the weather. Saying “It’s 51 degrees” means nothing!!!! Is that hot?? Is it halfway to hot???? I hate this and I hate you!!!
Don’t you think we know Drake is annoying? Of course he is! But America is full of annoying people. For decades, we have had to deal with your offensive radio hosts, your poorly understood scandals, your terrible politicians (we have our own, thank you), Diplo, Burning Man, and all of Los Angeles. We have accepted the burden of being on the same continent as you, a culture succubus. Toronto doesn’t get a lot of stuff. The city bears the brunt of being a representative of Canada (ridiculous in its own right — go to Fort McMurray and tell me that Toronto reflects the entirety of a nearly 10-million-square-kilometer country — I am not converting that to miles, you get enough, you overprivileged brats). The very least you can do in return is tolerate one of our most annoying exports. Love him like your own. Watch him dance. Look at his stupid smug face. We won the War of 1812, according to an exhausting campaign the government forced us all to witness in 2012, and practically nothing since; now, you have to watch Drake act like the boy in your ninth-grade class in Brampton who was, for some reason, always wearing basketball shorts in the dead of winter. Who knows if we’re going to win this series? At least we can finally win the culture war.
But listen, as soon as Drake actually does a collaboration with Chris Brown, you can have him in full. There’s only so much I, proud Canadian or not, can stand for. ●