Blake Murphy – Raptors905.com
Before Raptors 905 tipped off their home opener for the 2017-18 season, there was a moment for reflection. With head coach Jerry Stackhouse, general manager Dan Tolzman, and MLSE chairman of the board Larry Tanenbaum on the court in a pre-game ceremony, a curtain fell from the Hershey Centre rafters, revealing a banner: Raptors 905, NBA D-League Champions, 2017.
The moment felt like a long time coming but was really just a short time in the making. The 905 won the championship in just their second season of existence, an early success that the organization hopes sets the tone for years to come and one the G League holds up as an example to new teams as the league continues to expand toward its goal of one affiliate for all 30 NBA teams.
“It’s exciting to be back, and the Raptors organization has really been a model and have achieved success very quickly,” G League president Malcolm Turner said Wednesday. “Everything that we’ve seen tonight, and (the G League) Showcase, and coming back for Showcase, MLSE and the Raptors organization are clearly one of our model operators and franchises.”
As part of that success, not many returnees from the championship team were on hand. Players from that group have graduated to rotation spots with the Toronto Raptors and roles with top international teams, leaving just Bruno Caboclo and Negus Webster-Chan as holdovers from just a few months ago. The banner-raising was especially resonant for Webster-Chan, who didn’t play in the home opener due to injury, as a local product.
“It means a lot, especially because it’s my hometown, Toronto,” he said. “It definitely means a lot to raise a championship here.”
The members of the team who weren’t present to see the banner raised were still commemorating their accomplishments, with Pascal Siakam showing up to root this year’s team on and Axel Toupane, among others, taking to social media.
— Axel Toupane (@toups_33) November 8, 2017
As part of the evening, the 4,775 fans in attendance received replicas of the 905’s championship ring, a marvel of design that the organization put painstaking time and detail into. Tolzman and Raptors manager of player development Shelby Weaver led the charge in designing the ring, researching what other teams and leagues have done, considering some old-school design elements, and going back and forth with Baron Rings to try to tell the perfect story of the 905’s championship season.
Among the details conveyed in the ring:
• There are 39 red jewels on the face of the ring, one for each of the 905’s regular season wins.
• The 905 logo sits in front, with the logo’s black claw marks separating the jewels.
• On the bottom side of the ring are six more red jewels and one black, representing the team’s 6-1 record in the postseason.
• The ring says D-League Champions, not G League, as the 905 will be the last team to win a D-League championship before the league’s name changed.
• One side of the ring says “Established 2015,” a nod to the 905 winning the title in just their second season.
• The other side of the ring has each player or staff member’s name.
• The backdrop for each side is black hardwood.
• On the inside of the ring is an inscription of the team’s 39-11 record as well as “Hug Your Brothers,” the team’s mantra from a year ago.
The replica rings being given away at the Raptors 905 opener are legit pic.twitter.com/oqtzPYJDAm
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 31, 2017
“When you look at that, that’s the summation of what it took to get here, as long as it felt like it took but as quickly as we did it, and how impressive we were able to do it,” 905 director of team operations John Wiggins said. “That’s why I love the ring. I think 20 years from now, 30 years from now, we’ll come back together or you can show it to somebody and you can tell the story of our season. It’s more than just a ring.”
The ring is also big, a size 4X weighing roughly 100 grams, and it offers a whole lot of flash that took some of the players by surprise.
“Oh, the rings was crazy,” Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet said. “I was like, this is over the top, for sure, more than I expected. Those rings are pretty special.”
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) November 9, 2017
“I thought the G-League wouldn’t be that fancy,” Caboclo agreed. “The ring is amazing. It’s very good looking. (It) looks like one of the NBA’s rings.”
When a ring is impressive enough to elicit a stretched out “Yeahhhh, man” from as fashion-conscious a person as Stackhouse, it’s a job well done. The 905 made sure everyone who played a part in their championship season had one for the opener, right down to DJ Andre 905, the team’s in-arena DJ and a Mississauga native, who called the ring “blinged out.”
If it seems over the top for a G League ring, that was the hope. The 905 wanted to have the best ring of any league champion yet, and so they left no stone unturned in their research and brainstorming, exchanging sketches on hotel stationary and working through a dozen iterations before feeling like they’d told their story properly. And in a big way, of course.
“Look, well deserved,” Turner said. “This is an eat what you kill league, it’s a grind, and these guys got after it. So couldn’t be more proud. Terrific stuff, huh?”
For his part, Stackhouse was quick to shift the attention back to the task at hand, letting the banner-raising ceremony serve as a reminder of the work to come for a mostly new group as much as a reflection of the team’s success to date.
“It’s great, man. It’s great for our fans, great for our organization, you know, to do this in our second year,” Stackhouse said.
“Great thing for the fans to be able to have these pretty rings, a replica of ’em. But now we’re working on trying to build this team to have an opportunity to compete for a championship again, and I think we’re on the right path.”
The 905 just might need to downsize the rings if they repeat, lest those with hands smaller than Edy Tavares not be able to support the weight.