Our semi-definitive list of the 10 most important Raptors of all time
Not that anyone is really in need of a recap, but: the Raptors, after 24 years of climbing, finally reached the apex of the National Basketball Association on June 13, when they defeated the Golden State Warriors in game six of the finals to clinch Toronto’s first league championship.
With the victory, names like Kyle Lowry, the team’s tenacious, exemplary point guard, and Kawhi Leonard, the stoic, smooth-shooting saviour with a flair for the dramatic, rightfully entered Canadian sports lore, ushering the Raptors into what fans hope will be an era of prolonged success.
During Toronto’s playoff push, which included series wins over Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State—pretty much the greatest collection of basketball talent the NBA has ever seen—many new fans drank the bright-red Raptor Kool-Aid, and will hopefully stick around come next season.
For those new fans, and for those who have been waiting for this moment for what feels like forever, here’s something to fight about: our semi-definitive list of the most important Raptors of all time.
10. Damon Stoudamire (1995-1998)
The five-foot-10 point guard out of the University of Arizona was the Raptors’ first-ever draft selection. He was the seventh overall pick in the 1995 draft, which was held at the SkyDome. Fans booed as then-NBA commissioner David Stern announced Stoudamire’s name, but the diminutive guard wasn’t deterred: “Mighty Mouse” was named the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 19 points and 9.3 assists per game.
9. Morris Peterson (2000-2007)
When you think about the Raptors of the 2000s, you can’t help but think about Mo-Pete and his asymmetrical headband, excellent three-point shooting and incomparable durability. He’s perhaps best remembered for his utterly insane buzzer-beater against the Washington Wizards. Aside from that, he ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in most offensive categories. While he was never a star by any stretch, Peterson was around for an entire era of Raptors basketball, and he played hard through the good and the bad.
8. Tracy McGrady (1997-2000)
Though his tenure with the Raptors was short, McGrady (along with Vince Carter, his cousin) made people far beyond the 416 pay attention to the Raptors for the first time. A high-flying, sleepy-eyed scoring sensation who jumped to the NBA straight out of high school, McGrady helped make the Raps’ purple dinosaur jersey iconic, and he was a key cog on the 2000 team—the first to finish a regular season with a winning record in franchise history. McGrady left Toronto and developed into an NBA scoring champion with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets, much to Raptors fans’ chagrin. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2017.
7. Fred VanVleet (2016-?)
During the 2019 NBA Playoffs, VanVleet—an undrafted, unheralded, undersized guard who played for Wichita State University—put the entire basketball world on notice. Anybody who has paid attention to Fred knew to expect excellent shooting and hustle-filled defence, but against the Bucks and Warriors he took it to another level. After the birth of his son, VanVleet hit 14 three-pointers to send Toronto to the finals. Against Golden State, he doggedly defended Steph Curry—one of the best guards ever—and hit timeless shot after timeless shot. He also got a black eye, a bloody cheek and chipped a tooth.
6. José Calderón (2005-2013)
Every ship needs a captain, and, for eight years, Calderón was Toronto’s. An eminently consistent point guard, he once hit 98 per cent of his free throws in a single season, and he was a key factor in the Raptors’ mid-2000s resurgence into relevance. Even when the Raptors struggled, the steady Spaniard remained a fan favourite. Now a Detroit Piston, Calderón was quick to tweet congratulations to the Raptors organization after the championship win. A class act, through and through.
5. Chris Bosh (2003-2010)
Before winning championships with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as a member of the Miami Heat, Bosh was the Raptors’ everything—a bonafide star who scored, rebounded and defended, earning league-wide respect and acclaim. Even though—like so many early Raptors—he eventually dumped us, his legacy remains impressive. He played in five All-Star games as a Raptor (the video above explains how he got the votes). His career ended prematurely in 2017 because of blood clots, but he’s a future hall of famer, and his formative years were spent wearing a Toronto jersey.
4. Vince Carter (1998-2004)
Vince Carter is synonymous with the Toronto Raptors, despite the fact that he hasn’t played here since 2004. He immediately changed the team upon his arrival in 1998, making five All-Star teams, winning the 2000 dunk contest and leading the Raps to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, when (unlike Kawhi) he narrowly missed a buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers in game seven. Carter, now 42, is still playing, and will retire after next season. Bring him back to Toronto, please.
3. Kawhi Leonard (2018-?)
His 11-inch hands delivered the Raptors their first-ever championship—and, over the course of only one season, completely changed Toronto’s basketball future. Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year and a fun guy, was acquired in a trade for DeMar DeRozan last summer. Fans were initially conflicted over the swap, because DeRozan was a long-time favourite—but Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA. His buzzer-beater in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals over the Philadelphia 76ers—which clanked off the rim four excruciating times before finally dropping through the mesh—is one of the greatest shots in NBA history. On Canada Day, or soon after, Leonard will decide whether or not to sign with the Raptors for another season. If he does go elsewhere, he’ll leave Toronto a legend.
2. DeMar DeRozan (2009-2018)
DeMar DeRozan never got the chance to win a championship with Toronto, but he will be remembered as one of the franchise’s best players ever. He was the focal point of the Raptors’ attack for nine seasons, and he helped lead the team to five consecutive playoff appearances, beginning in 2014. Without DeRozan, the Raptors would not have won this year’s championship, because he was the sacrificial lamb who made it possible for us to trade for Kawhi, the eventual finals MVP.
1. Kyle Lowry (2012-?)
Kyle Lowry is the unquestioned leader of the Raptors, and has been for seven seasons, including five All-Star appearances. The point guard, criticized for lacklustre playoff performance, silenced all his detractors with his postseason showing this spring. In the championship-clinching game six, Lowry scored 26 points, dished 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds before lifting the championship trophy. Other players, like Leonard and Carter, might have put up more eye-popping numbers, but nobody has left more on the court than Lowry, a Villanova product who has fought for every victory with grit and determination. He’s the quintessential Toronto Raptor.