Polls conducted on The Daily Universe social media accounts showed that 73.8% of respondents, members of the BYU community, are cheering for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.
“I’m cheering for the Raptors because if I’m not a big fan of either team, I’ll always cheer for the underdog,” BYU student Paul Swensen said. “Plus, I’m just tired of seeing the Warriors there every year, so I’d like to see a team who hasn’t ever won it before win the title.”
These results are for a number of reasons, but two main reasons stand out — people don’t want the Golden State Warriors to win another championship, and people appreciate what Kawhi Leonard has done for the Raptors.
“I’m sick of seeing the Warriors win,” BYU student Jason Firth said. “I have never been a big fan of the Warriors. Not that they’re not good, they’re incredibly good, just not a big fan.
Firth is a student at BYU and an avid sports fan. He has been keeping up with the NBA playoffs, along with the NHL playoffs, and finds himself constantly checking stats as he watches the games.
“I would like to see Toronto, especially Kawhi Leonard, win,” Firth said. “I watch every game, I check the stats, everything.”
Though the Raptors were the team of choice over the Warriors among BYU students and alumni in the polls, it seems like there is more of a passive fandom occurring for this NBA Finals matchup among people in Provo. This year’s NBA Finals made for a different type of viewership with the Jazz knocked out of the playoffs in the first round and the historic Lebron James vs. Golden State NBA Finals matchup coming to a halt because the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs.
“I kind of want the Raptors to win, but at the same time, I really like the Warriors and Kevin Durant,” BYU student Sean Callahan said. “It’s a hard choice, but I would probably say the Raptors.”
The NBA Finals ratings have fallen in the U.S., likely caused, in part, by the absence of Lebron James, but have skyrocketed in Canada. According to NBA.com, there were more than 10 million unique viewers during Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Canada, meaning just under a third of Canada’s population tuned into the game at some point while it was airing. The average viewership of the game in Canada was 4.3 million, over 10% of the Canadian population. It was the most watched NBA game in Canada in the history of the sport.
“Viewership has gone down because LeBron James isn’t in the playoffs. He has been the face of the NBA for a decade,” BYU student Jacob Martin said.
Aside from this, the Raptors are the only NBA team from outside of the U.S. Keeping this in mind, interest levels in Canada have peaked because its only team has never seen this type of success before, while people in the U.S. may feel less inclined to watch a game with an unfamiliar team that doesn’t get as much recognition as other large-market NBA teams that play in the U.S.
“I’d say the ratings have gone down this year because people are tired of watching the Warriors win but also can’t bring themselves to cheer for the Canadian team to beat them,” Swensen said.
The Raptors making the NBA Finals already makes the matchup less conventional than in years past, but seeing celebrities on the sidelines that are actively imposing their will on the teams competing in this year’s playoffs has made it even more unique. Popular Canadian hip-hop artist Drake, residing in Toronto, has often made his presence known on the sidelines during games by trash-talking players, celebrating big plays and interacting with the Raptors bench. Other celebrities like Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and rappers E-40 and Gucci Mane have also had their presence broadcasted from the sidelines.
“When it comes to Drake, I think there are a couple things he has done that are a little unnecessary, but the connection he has with his own team and opposing players provides more entertainment as he engages in talking trash and taunting players,” BYU student Blake McMullin said.
It seems as if Toronto is finding its place as the fan favorite around the United States and Canada, though it is not accustomed to the spotlight. After the Warriors have taken down the best teams year after year, and posted historic records, it would only make sense that people cheer for what would be a true underdog story.
“I’m cheering for the Raptors, because even with a better record, I feel like they are looked at as an underdog in this series,” McMullin said. “I’m sick of seeing Golden State win the championship.”