On Saturday, the Toronto Raptors are celebrating the one-year anniversary of their historic Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors and the team’s first NBA championship.
It’s surreal to reflect back on that night in Oakland and what it represents. Even after 12 months, it’s still hard to believe that Canada’s only remaining NBA club – a franchise that’s been overlooked and even disrespected for most of its 25-year existence – hoisted the trophy.
Fortunately, those responsible for making it happen have a reminder available at their fingertips: a championship ring.
Most of the players and staff from that 2018-19 title-winning team received their rings just before Toronto tipped off the new season against the Pelicans back in October.
Like the event they were made to commemorate, the Raptors’ rings are historic. With more than 650 diamonds, it’s the most valuable professional championship ring ever crafted.
The rings were designed by a group of world-class jewellers and a small committee made up of representatives from ownership, the front office and a fitting team rep, Toronto’s longest-tenured player, Kyle Lowry.
Lowry wanted the Raptors’ keepsakes to be unique. He also wanted them to be BIG. Say what you will about the finished product – the reviews have been mixed – but they certainly check both of those boxes.
On the face of the ring, diamonds spell out the word NORTH inside of a chevron, paying homage to the red and white alternate jerseys the team wore on June 13, 2019 – the night they won the title. In the background, you can see the CN Tower and iconic Toronto skyline sitting atop Scotiabank Arena. At the centre of it all is the Larry O’Brien Trophy, topped by a record 1.25-carat diamond.
They’re definitely not subtle, but they were never supposed to be.
“This is the first one in the organization’s history and I think that was one of the things we wanted, to make sure it stands apart from every other ring that’s been done before,” Lowry said back in October. He was the only player to see the ring before they were unveiled to the rest of the team on opening night. “It’s the first team outside of the U.S. to have a ring, to win a championship, so we were like, “Listen, we can’t have it be like anyone else. We have to be different.' ”
“This is not a ring you wear every day,” the all-star point guard explained. “This is a statement piece. You don’t wear it every day, you put it up, you can wear it once in a while, but I wanted [it to be larger] just because we wanted to show the details.”
At the time, Lowry said he planned to display the ring in his home. He already had a spot prepared. He was also looking forward to sharing it with his two young kids and reflecting back on it once he retires.
But what about the others? All 16 players on the Raptors’ title-winning roster have a ring with their name on it (though one has yet to receive his – more on that below). TSN caught up with a few of them to find out what they’ve done with their championship mementoes.
Fred VanVleet has the ring locked up in a case with a few game balls from the finals. He’s been meaning to add some jerseys and shoes to his display but needs to get a bigger trophy case.
VanVleet: “I haven’t taken the ring out much at all. I probably wore it like three times maybe. It’s so obnoxious and takes up so much room on my hand. So, yeah, it’s more like a conversation piece. When people come over, or family comes to visit, I show 'em and they all want to see it. Everybody is blown away by it, but it’s definitely not something that I can wear every day or even very often. It would give me blisters if I wore it too much.”
With the NBA on hiatus, Norman Powell has been staying in Las Vegas to be close to family. His ring is in safe hands back in Toronto, waiting for him to return. “I don’t want that disappearing.”
Powell: “I used it in the commercial I shot for my Understand the Grind brand, but other than that I don’t really take it out and look at it. I think that’s more like my mom’s thing – when she comes she wants to see it and wear it – or when my friends come to town, I’ll show it to them. It’s just a thing that I see, and it reminds me [of the championship] and I’m like, okay, it’s kinda lonely, I need another one.”
It was only a matter of time before somebody suspected I was planning an elaborate Ocean’s Eleven heist of the rings.
TSN: Where do you keep your ring?
Pascal Siakam: “C’mon man, don’t try to steal my ring. I’m not going to tell you where I keep my ring.”
TSN: Sorry. Sorry. How often do you take it out? Have you had any special moments with it?
Siakam: “Yeah, for sure. Everyone wants to see the ring. That’s the first thing that people ask you all the time. It’s like, ‘I want to see the ring, I want to see the ring.’ When family comes around, if they want to see it, I show it to them, or if some of my friends want to see it or whatever. It’s somewhere safe, Josh. Safe.”
Not everybody was in attendance to receive the ring on opening night. Former Raptors reserve Jeremy Lin is now playing for the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball League. He didn’t get his ring until January. The Raptors hand-delivered it to a family member in California, who brought it to Lin in China.
Lin (from Inside the Green Room with Danny Green): “Funny story actually. I tried to get them to ship it. I was like, ‘Hey, just ship out the ring.’ The Raptors were kinda like, ‘Hey, not sure how to explain this to you but this isn’t really an item that you ship.’ And I’m like, ‘Why? It’s not that big. It should be pretty simple.’ They’re like, ‘Well, one, it’s a really precious item but, two, there’s a lot of other stuff that comes with it.’ I didn’t know at the time there was the jacket from Drake, there was the bottle of champagne and a video game.”
Kawhi Leonard, now a member of the L.A. Clippers, got his ring when he made his return to Toronto on Dec. 11. The plan was to present Green with his ring in a pre-game ceremony when the Lakers came to town on Mar. 24 – it’s a date he had been looking forward to since the schedule was released. However, with the season on hold since Mar. 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that game was never played, making Green the only player who hasn’t received his ring. The Raptors offered to send it to L.A., but Green politely declined. It’s also possible that the two teams meet in a neutral location, if the season resumes in Orlando next month, as planned. But Green’s preference is to hold off until he can receive it in front of the Toronto fans at Scotiabank Arena. He may have to wait a while.
Green: “If I win this year, I might get that ring before I get the Raptors ring.”
Like VanVleet, Malcolm Miller is still working to find a proper home for his ring.
Miller: “I actually have mine in my safe in my house. I don’t have the right display that I want for it yet, so I figured I’d just keep it hidden away until I get exactly what I wanted for it.”
TSN: Do you take it out much?
Miller: “Mostly just to show my family and friends that haven’t seen it. I haven’t taken it to any events or anything. Well, to be honest, there hasn’t been much recently to take it out to.”
TSN: You don’t wear it around the house to cook or wash dishes?
Miller: “See, I did that the first couple times, but my finger got tired. It’s a pretty big ring.”