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Sports This Week: Author Wong deep dives Raptor origin

Down the road, ‘a deep dive” into the championship run is on author’s radar.
Prehistoric: The Audacious and Improbable Origin Story of the Toronto Raptors by Alex Wong.

While I was of course following the arrival of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies to the NBA back in 1995 it was a rather superficial awareness – basketball had simply not been on my radar as a Canadian sport fan.

Sort of with the two teams – at least until the Grizzlies moved south – I began to follow the sport a little – the scores at least, or actually reading basketball articles in Sports Illustrated which was a treasured regular subscription for years.

Vince Carter was probably ‘the one’ that dragged me to really care about the Raptors, and with every game finally on cable, I was hooked.

The championship win was the icing on the proverbial cake, but the love was there before and has stayed as the current team frustrates and entertains often in the same game this season.

But, I had little understanding of what went into the Raptors ending up in the NBA.

So, the release of Prehistoric: The Audacious and Improbable Origin Story of the Toronto Raptors by Alex Wong was a must read after its recent release from Triumph Books.

Wong might be best-recognized by many basketball fans as producer/co-host of The Raptors Show on SportsNet.

Wong however is a noted writer who has written about basketball and culture for publications including The New Yorker, GQ, SLAM, The New York Times, and The Atlantic. He is the author of Cover Story: The NBA and Modern Basketball as Told Through Its Most Iconic Magazine Covers. He co-authored the Canadian bestseller We The Champs: The Toronto Raptors’ Historic Run to the 2019 NBA Title.

It’s pretty clear from the resume Wong is a huge Raptor fan from the outset.

“I was 11 years old in 1995 when the Toronto Raptors came into my life. Three years earlier, my dad walked into the corner room in our tiny apartment in the New Territories region of Hong Kong, where I grew up. It was a school night and I played a Sega Genesis game called Alex Kidd in Miracle World. My dad told me we were moving to Canada in a month,” he writes in the introduction to Prehistoric. “. . . The hardest part about starting life in a new country is the part where you have to let go of the place you used to live in and, at the same time, try to find meaningful connections in the place you are living in now. It wasn’t until an NBA team came to Toronto that I started to feel like there was something to tie me to this city. Basketball became a bigger part of my life after my dad installed a basketball hoop on our driveway.”

So the new book comes from the heart and readers will soon appreciate that when reading Prehistoric.

“I think of this project as the most personal project I’m ever going to write,” Wong told Yorkton This Week in a recent interview. “The Raptors have been part of my life . . . back to when I emigrated here in 1992.”

Wong said part of the draw to the team was actually something the team was promoting, as the Raptors endeavoured to attract youth and women, and immigrant Canadians to the team as they looked to carve out a niche. While noting the Raptors have worked in that regard there is more he feels still to be done.

“I challenge MLSE and the Raptors about still doing more,” he said.

In Prehistoric Wong takes readers back to the birth of a franchise that today is a business juggernaut but at the start struggled to sell enough season tickets to appease the NBA.

“In just over 25 years, the Toronto Raptors have evolved from an intrepid expansion team to an NBA champion. But for all the triumphs of the past decade, the beginning looked a bit different,” notes the publisher description. “When the franchise began its first season in 1995, a pro basketball team in Toronto was viewed as an experiment. There was no playbook to follow, and very few people gave them a chance to succeed.”

In Prehistoric “Wong explores the franchise’s fascinating and unconventional inception through 140 original interviews with those involved with the team’s very beginning, examining the process of how the team came up with their name and logo inspired by the blockbuster film Jurassic Park, taking a behind-the-scenes look at the drafting of star point guard Damon Stoudamire, telling the backstories of a group of misfits who formed the first-year roster, and providing an in-depth look at the team’s opening night victory at the SkyDome and the expansion franchise’s signature win over Michael Jordan and a 72-win Chicago Bulls team.”

It is a book Wong said he worked on for nearly three years to pull the varied stories together, a process that was hardly work at all.

“I got a lot of personal enjoyment out of it,” he said in the YTW interview.

But, why write a book about the beginning of the franchise at this particular juncture?

“The idea really started after the 2019 championship,” said Wong.

In covering the championship Wong said he came to recognize there were many new Raptor fans with little connection to, or knowledge of the team’s roots.

Those fans hadn’t “been on the planet when the team started,” he said.

So Wong said he saw an audience for a team origin story.

“It was time to tell the story for a new generation,” he said.

However, in attending book promotion events Wong said he has also met lifelong fans with memories back to year one, and it is gratifying they are finding things in the book they had not known before.

With Prehistoric well-received – it is a must read for Raptor fans – and his connection to the team will there be more books from Wong?

Quite likely.

Wong said he would be interested in doing “a deep dive into the Vince Carter era,” if he could access the people involved for the needed interview insights. He added that was a key to Prehistoric.

“I knew I could get access to everybody,” he said.

And, down the road, ‘a deep dive” into the championship run is on Wong’s radar. I for one can hardly wait.