TORONTO — Raptors coach Dwane Casey was plotting moves against the Washington Wizards in a meeting when assistant coach Rex Kalamian got a message on his phone asking if everyone was OK.
They turned on the TV and suddenly basketball strategy was forgotten as the Toronto coaches learned of the horrific van attack that left 10 dead and 15 injured Monday.
Team president Masai Ujiri said his phone blew up with "hundreds of texts from people all over. They kept asking 'Is everything OK?'"
Basketball took a backseat Tuesday as the Raptors, like everyone else in the city, struggled to make sense of such a violent act.
While his team practised, Ujiri showed up unexpected to address the media. But the Nigerian native's message was for his fellow Torontonians.
"I really feel strongly that it's a time for us to come together and support one other and not be afraid," he said.
He urged people to "believe in our city."
"Everywhere I go I brag about this city," he added. "It's the safest place in the world, it's the best city in the world and it's going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world ... We must continue to live our lives and not be afraid."
Casey, meanwhile, said he had just been telling people over the weekend how safe Toronto was and how it was a melting pot without the kind of crime other cities have.
The attack stuck close to home for the coach. "It's not too far from up the street from where I live."
Just as the Maple Leafs did Monday night in their game against the Boston Bruins, the Raptors plan to show their support Wednesday for the victims of the attack prior to Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Wizards.
Ujiri and Casey both said Monday's nightmarish events put life — and sports — in perspective.
"What we do doesn't really matter sometimes," said Ujiri. "I can't imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk."
"My drive home, all I thought about was that. And the heaviness of it. And how you should come out of this," he added. "But the next thing I thought about was I still know how we are, I still know what this city is and I know that those kind of things can never put a city or country like this down."
Added Casey: "There's things much bigger than sport right now that's going on in the world and right now in Toronto ... but hopefully sport can give a relief, a reprieve, some joy in our lives a little bit and lighten things up a little bit."
Ujiri, who said he fears "nothing and no one," said he believes 98 per cent of the people around the world are "unbelievable people."
As for the other two per cent who may have problems, "we should work on making those people better."
But he said things can happen anywhere, noting he was in Denver just days before the 2012 mass shooting inside a cinema in nearby Aurora, Colo., that left 12 people dead and 70 injured.
"You can be anywhere in this world these days and things happen," he said. "We just have to be a little bit aware and we have to care about each other more. Care about your neighbour, know who your neighbour is, know who people around you are a little bit more and, I think, show more affection to these people."
Toronto and Canada remain his home, he said, saying they are "an example of the way a city or a country should be."
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said Monday's events were sickening.
"It's just a sad time, a sad day. It's kind of hard to put into words how you feel," he said.
Lowry, a Philadelphia native, paid tribute to the police officer who made the arrest without firing his gun.
"Kudos to that officer," he said.
The 25-year-old man arrested would likely have faced a different fate in the U.S., Lowry added.
"I think in America he would definitely have been shot up," he said.
The Raptors won the first two games of the series at home by margins of 114-106 and 130-119 before losing the next two 122-103 and 106-98 at the Capital One Arena.
Mistakes have cost the Raptors. Toronto is currently last among the 16 playoff teams averaging 17.0 turnovers a game. During the regular season, the Raptors were sixth best in the league at just 13.4 turnovers per game.
Casey said cutting down on those errors is crucial.
"We clean up half of those and that will help us tremendously."
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