The Toronto Raptors basketball team is off to a strong start after winning last season’s NBA title and, across Canada, the sport is seeing a bounce in popularity.
And a local university basketball coach says that means not just more fans, but more players.
“I think they just raised the profile of the sport and I think it’s where 25 years it was hockey first, second and third, I think it’s pushing up on that upper limit where it’s a sport that hasn’t reached an equal footing with hockey, but it’s very close to it right now in Canada,” said Deb Hubband, head coach for women’s basketball at the University of B.C.
She’s seen enthusiasm for the sport increase among all kinds of fans and players.
“I think it definitely did have an impact where people got really excited about the game of basketball.”.
Right now, kids are playing recreational basketball, competitive basketball, they are playing on the streets and courts and community centers gyms have never been so packed. Canada has never had so many players in the NBA as this year, with 16 in the rosters of the 30 teams in the league, and has just reached a record for the most non-American players drafted in a single year with six.
She believes the combination of a Raptor’s championship and the women’s national team latest results and ranking improvements have combined to bring the sport in to focus.
“I think there are other things happening specifically for the girls and women too. which is that our women’s national team is doing very well and has a higher profile as their games get televised now”
That love has been around for a while, according to Blake Puritz, coach from RBL, a recreational basketball project born in Vancouver in 1997. He sees the Raptors’ impact as just the latest addition to an overall growth in the popularity of the sport.
“I would say that basketball just in general is more popular than ever before, there are more programs out there and more kids playing,” he said.
“We’re in the age of information so there’s more access to many programs, many coaching and playing opportunities, therefore more kids playing.”