A few years ago, I went to a handful of Raptors games and I had the best time. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I wasn’t sure about who was on our team (minus two or three players), and I still don’t know how basketball scoring works. But it didn’t matter: I understood that the Raptors ruled, that I needed them to win, and that should they elevate themselves to championship contenders, I would tether myself to the bandwagon and let it drag me.
And here we are today.
Tonight, the Raptors play game five against the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, and regardless of whether or not you’ve been following the season, you likely care. In the same way the Blue Jays romanced us a few years ago with their back-to-back post-season extravaganzas, the Raptors have enthusiastically reminded us that not every Toronto sports team is a shocking disappointment, and that it’s okay to believe in things.
The problem is, if you don’t follow basketball, you are like me. And if you are like me, hell-bent on being psyched about a sport you don’t understand and still associate with when you faked injuries in P.E. so you could avoid playing it, you are lost. You are lost and a little screwed and in desperate need for a way to release an enthusiasm that’s akin only to Drake losing his shit courtside. (But even then, Drake understands how basketball works. And I, dear reader, do not.)
So with that in mind, here is my guide to supporting the Raptors despite having no concept of how the game works, who anybody is, and why anything happens. Because I know I’m not alone in my ignorance, but I also know how embarrassing it is to wade into a world that is not yours, especially after asking a friend mid fourth-quarter, “So how do the points work?”
Insult the opposing team at will, but avoid cruelty at all costs
Nobody here is about to shout, “You suck!” at an opposing player because frankly, it’s a basic insult and we’re all above it. So instead, I suggest waging psychological warfare on the athletic enemy by getting as specific as you can about nothing in particular. If within earshot (because maybe all of a sudden you have courtside seats), say “I think it’s brave that you’re out here playing today” and plant a poisonous seed of doubt. If in the crowd, make eye contact at your target and slowly shake your head back and forth, as if you’ve never been more ashamed. And if watching the game elsewhere? Well, you’re not there, and they can’t hear you so just order some fries.
Veil your ignorance by punching up your vocabulary
Clapping and cheering is important and beautiful, but if you are as insecure about your lack of knowledge as I am, you’ll want everybody around you to think you’re more of a fan than they’ve ever been. Which is why I refuse to commit to legitimate sports commentary and instead use movie quotes, multiple-syllable descriptors, and song lyrics as proof of how in the know I am about everything.
Do they need to make sense? Absolutely not. And if you are challenged by a fan who thinks they know more than you do (and they would be right), look at them with a knowing nod as if you’re sharing a secret. By this time, they’ll be so weirded out that they won’t dare speak to you again. Even though you do share a secret: that you’ve just started using Princess Bride dialogue to up your athletic ante.
Cloak yourself in merch
Just like Joey Tribiani when he pretends to own a Porsche.
Use “typical” as a default
“Typical” is my favourite thing to say about anything, good or bad, I am completely clueless about. Stuck behind a terrible driver? Typical. Impressed by somebody’s incredible outfit? Typical. Something good or bad in a sports game? Typical. Then revel in the power that comes with whispering it, as though you’re personal friends with a player and are desperate not to give yourself away.
Showcase disappointment in any errors by reciting Tyra Banks’ Top Model “Tiffany” monologue verbatim
“How dare you!” you will scream at the television after the Raptor you’re looking at misses an “easy” shot none of us could make under any circumstances. “We were rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!” And this will also serve as a type of test: if nobody identifies your source, you may proceed to eventually scream, “This is not America’s Top Best Friend!” and if they do, you are amongst your people. To an extent. They may also be legitimate fans who understand everything we do not.
Seek comfort in knowing any player on the team would be lucky to be your friend
And that you’d make a phenomenal manager. Why? Because while you’re a fan, you’re also not truly a fan. Meaning that pep talks and “You’ve really let me down” lectures would bear more weight since the Raptors would then be playing for your approval, and your approval alone.
Which is what I space out and think about when I begin feeling overwhelmed by how little I understand basketball. Because if I could just get into the team’s locker room (after everybody was decent, obviously) and deliver a speech better than Brad Pitt in Moneyball, I know we could take this thing. We, the Toronto Raptors, who would be absolutely lost without me. (Or, um, us.)