I still remember my first Toronto Raptors game like it was yesterday. On the cold autumn night of November 8, 2006, the Philadelphia 76ers visited the Air Canada Centre. It was a close, exhilarating game for all four quarters, and ended 106–104 in Toronto’s favour after Chris Bosh scored a dagger three-point shot to defeat the Sixers.
The experience inside the arena was thrilling — an atmosphere unlike anything I had experienced up until that point. From that night on, basketball stole my heart. If there was a game on, I was glued to the screen, and if I missed the action, I would check SportsCentre the next morning before the weather.
The November 8 game is one of the many basketball games I’ve been rewatching during my time spent at home, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, I had never considered reliving past excitement — my mentality was ‘I’ve already seen the game once, why would I watch it again?’ But with a lack of sporting events on television due to the global suspension of almost all leagues, I’ve begun to cycle through past games and I have found myself just as excited as I was as a child, watching them live.
The truth is, sports are inherently engaging and make a lasting personal connection with those who tune in night after night. For example, The Last Dance — the Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls documentary mini-series — drew in record viewership, averaging 5.8 million viewers from its first six episodes alone. Despite everyone having watched Michael Jordan play, we all tuned in, because we have a deep connection to the content.
Live sports viewership has been rocky since the dawn of streaming, with the NFL recording a seven per cent drop in 2017 from the prior two seasons. The 2016 Rio Olympics also suffered, seeing a 15 per cent drop from the London 2012 Olympics.
However, during the current pandemic, there has been a noticeable trend of fans watching old games. For example, the NBA’s official YouTube channel has been streaming classic matchups for its #NBATogetherLive movement to keep fans engaged. The May 27 live screening of the May 2010 duel between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns garnered over 129,000 views as of May 28, 2020. Other games have sneaked over the 300,000 views mark, such as Michael Jordan’s “The Last Shot” 1998 game six gathering over 358,000 views.
It’s clear that the future of sports is in online streaming. But with platforms such as DAZN — which has the rights to the NFL, the English Premier League, and many sporting events, like marquee boxing matches — recently undergoing financial troubles due to the international suspension of sports, it seems as if everything is up in the air.
Sports have a unique ability to bring people together, which has been quite apparent in my own life. Last summer, when my cousins flew in to visit us from California for the first time, there wasn’t much we knew about each other aside from our shared last name. However, we all quickly bonded over a love of basketball.
They were Sacramento Kings fans while my brother and I were Toronto Raptors fans, but we all shared the same passion for the game. They came just in time for the NBA Finals, in which the Raptors took down the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty in six games. We all cheered and celebrated as if we had known each other our entire lives, and marched in the championship parade as if we all had grown up in Toronto. Nothing else on Earth brings people together like sports do.
While it may seem difficult to cope with the circumstances that are currently keeping us in our homes, it’s important to find comfort in the things we love. Watching the games that drew me in as a child has helped me remain calm in these uncertain times, and I’m sure it has for many others as well.
Sports provide us with heartache, joy, and a wide variety of indescribable emotions that impact us deep in our hearts. When I rewatched that autumn 2006 showdown between the Raptors and 76ers, I realized I had completely forgotten about Chris Bosh’s game-winning three-pointer. Not because of the time that had passed, but because of all the other memories that the Raptors have given me over the years.
It’s the small things that have kept me glued to my screen and that will keep me enthralled for more years to come — and I’m certain that it’s these emotions that will keep sports fans engaged through the pandemic and beyond.