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The Toronto Raptors: Background information when reading Fight Night

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Fight Night

by Miriam Toews

Fight Night by Miriam Toews X
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2023, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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About this Book

The Toronto Raptors

This article relates to Fight Night

Print Review

Toronto Raptors logo featuring claws holding a basketballIn Fight Night, grandmother and granddaughter Elvira and Swiv are both big fans of the Toronto Raptors, a Canadian basketball team that competes in the NBA's Eastern Conference Atlantic Division. The novel has a few autobiographical elements, as author Miriam Toews lives in Toronto in a household that includes her own mother (whose name is Elvira), her daughter, and two of her grandchildren. Throughout the novel, the Raptors are referred to frequently in passing and play in the background on the television. The team was established in 1995 during the NBA's expansion into Canada, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies. A nationwide vote gave rise to the team's name, chosen due to the popularity of the movie Jurassic Park at the time. Upon the relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001, the Raptors became the only Canada-based team in the NBA.

Fitting with the theme of fighting and working together for something greater, at one point in the novel, Elvira says that the reason that "the Raptors are so good is because they're collectively trying to win, not a single one of them just trying to break personal records or up his stats or whatever." The Raptors are used as a teachable lesson to Swiv that it's better to be part of a losing team than to be alone in a winning fight.

The Raptors' history also conveys this sentiment, having started off from a disadvantaged position. For the first three years after formation, the Raptors had a clause in their contract that prevented them from getting top pick of the draft for players. So, in spite of having won the NBA draft lottery in 1996, the Raptors had to settle for second pick, losing out on Allen Iverson, who ended up being an all-star player and an NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). This clause may have also caused the Raptors to miss out on other MVPs, such as Kobe Bryant. The team won the lottery again in 2006 and could finally get top pick, but then they drafted Andrea Bargnani, who failed to live up to expectations. Arguably, this might have contributed to the Raptors' collective spirit that Elvira refers to that makes them so good. Without an all-star player, the team could focus on performing well together.

In asserting that it's better to be part of a losing team than a lonely winner, Elvira is setting out a value system in which togetherness is valued over success. For about a decade from the mid-2000s to 2013, the Raptors struggled to be recognized and taken seriously in the NBA. The team was seen as forgettably mediocre. Yet, the Raptors went on to improbably win their first title in 2019 at the end of their 24th season, against the heavily favored Golden State Warriors, who had won the championship three of the previous five years. They were the first and only non-US team to win an NBA championship. The Raptors' success was attributed to, amongst other things, the team culture. They had made small changes to emphasize a sense of connection between the players — such as standing in a wider circle formation instead of a tight huddle during training camp in order to guarantee players made eye contact with one another.

The Raptors also have a strong belief in equality that goes beyond the game of basketball, as their website states: "We are a community of people who believe that a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion off the court is as important as our play on it," and features numerous highlights of the team's work amplifying the voices of activists for racial justice.

Just as the Raptors played both home games in Toronto and away games in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors during the 2019 championship, Fight Night is divided into sections entitled "Home" and "Away" as Swiv and Elvira travel between Toronto and California, facing the world as a team of two.

Toronto Raptors logo, courtesy of Toronto Raptors

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This "beyond the book article" relates to Fight Night. It originally ran in October 2021 and has been updated for the January 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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