I’ve been a dog person for about as long as I’ve been a person and certainly longer than I’ve been a people person. When I found out that the Toronto Raptors were bringing back the Toronto Huskies get-up for a few games this season I assumed that I would fall in love with the concept and resent dinosaurs from there on out.
In addition to having grown up alongside dogs of all shapes and sizes, a more recent insatiable thirst for the northern wilderness and any episode of Les Stroud traipsing around the Arctic solidified my love for the working sled-dog.
Alaskan, Siberian, you name it – from the barrens to the mountains, to Greenland and beyond, their presence forever unmistakable and grandeur unmatched. Nowhere on Earth is such speed, grit, power and determination bound together and wrapped in the densely-matted fur coat of a four-legged torpedo, at least not in the same fearless package capable of staring down a polar bear 10 times its body weight one minute and sleeping alongside a small child the next.
In a nutshell, huskies – as a breed; as an animal – deserve your respect. But nutshells are for the weak and you owe them a lot more than only that.
The Toronto Huskies, on the other hand, don’t quite deserve the unwavering praise. A quick history lesson will show you that the Toronto Huskies were launched alongside the Basketball Association of America way back in 1946. Unless you’re old enough to remember that, you probably found this out when you unwrapped a package of 1997-1998 Topps basketball cards and saw Walt Williams cramming one home in the canine blue and white – but I digress.
In 1947 these Huskies folded. After one lone, losing season in the forerunner of today’s NBA, the team and the name were cast aside and forgotten, never to be heard of again until David Stern came around and reignited the flame in the 1990s.
Throughout the years, the Huskies lived on in the spirit of the Toronto basketball community, which, as expected, adapted to life without a franchise, turning their focus instead to hockey for the nearly 50 years between. It was a long, harsh wait that would eventually pay off.
The decision to name the modern rendition of Toronto basketball – when it was announced in 1993 – came just years after the Minnesota Timberwolves’ induction to the league and the possibility of depicting a distinguishable logo was not an easy task. What resulted was a contest that turned instead to the masses for suggestions of possible alternative mascots. Huskies had been essentially ruled out.
The contest, which came on the heels of one of the biggest movies of all time, resulted in a gauntlet of possibilities that included the Toronto Hogs, Scorpions and Terriers. Alas, popular culture reared its popular head and the overwhelming presence of Jurassic Park-inspired names prevailed.
The Raptor, as we know it, was officially born (or hatched from genetic material extracted from amber-preserved remains of prehistoric mosquitoes, technically).
Regardless, they were here to stay.
It’s been 15 years now, since Toronto basketball has been back on the court and times have changed. The purple theme that accompanied the original claw marks has given way to a sleeker, simpler motif that, in the absence of the Vancouver Grizzlies, has also inherited the patriotic responsibilities of being Canada’s only team.
Aesthetically and culturally, the Raptors have thrived. Somehow the fabric of what it is to be a Canadian has integrated with that of what it is to be a velociraptor and the result is a team that symbolizes much of what the city of Toronto stands for.
When the Huskies throwbacks reemerged this season, a silent movement began to form and whispers of disappointment could be heard from the corners of the Toronto sports community that wished the original team name never left.
Considering I’d waited for this moment my entire Toronto sports fan career, I figured I’d be leading the name change band wagon in an attempt to honour the general awesomeness of the classic breed, but those feelings of animosity never came and my passion for scaly, talon-toting Raptors basketball never left.
Despite the years of awkward jerseys and competition with two more Jurassic Park movies over the team’s first decade in the league, it finally appeared as though the Raptors name had outlasted the superficial environment in which it was born. Before we knew it, the team had started to establish some tradition of its own along the way. Certainly more tradition than the original Huskies ever left us with.
Had somebody told us from day one that the Huskies would have had their rebirth back in 1995, alongside Damon Stoudamire in the Skydome, no one would have thought twice. But that’s not the case, and looking back through the annals of Raptors history, I’m surprisingly not that upset about it.
Besides, remember the tall grass scene in The Lost World with the tails and the raptors and the jumping? Yeah. Huskies are pretty awesome but they definitely couldn’t do that.