Prehistoric: U of T alum Alex Wong explores the Toronto Raptors' origin story

Alex Wong's book delves into the launch of the Toronto Raptors and examines the power of sport to foster community

U of T alumnus Alex Wong signed copies of his book Prehistoric: the Improbable and Audacious Origin Story of the Toronto Raptors at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport (all photos by Dewey Chang)

The origin story of the Toronto Raptors – and the team's subsequent impact on community-building in the GTA and beyond – are the subject of a new book by University of Toronto alumnus Alex Wong, who discussed the stories and themes from the Raptors' rise at a launch party held at U of T's Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Wong, producer and co-host of Canada's most popular basketball podcast – The Raptors Show with Will Lou – delved into Prehistoric: the Improbable and Audacious Origin Story of the Toronto Raptors during a recent panel discussion hosted by U of T's Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) that featured key figures in the founding of the Raptors.

From left to right: Alex Wong, John Bitove Jr., founder of the Toronto Raptors, David Peterson, founding chairman of the Toronto Raptors, and Tom O'Grady, designer of the original Raptors' logo

“This is a story about the people who bonded over a common purpose – the launch of a professional basketball team,” said Wong, who graduated from U of T Scarborough. “But the core element of the book is community, which is at the core of basketball and is at the core of the Raptors.”

Helping Wong tell the story – in the book and on the Goldring Centre stage – were John Bitove Jr., founder of the Toronto Raptors, David Peterson, founding chairman of the Raptors and U of T chancellor emeritus, and Tom O’Grady, designer of the team's original logo. 

“I got emotional over some of the passages in the book,” said Bitove. “When we started this venture, we believed in it, of course – we hoped that it would turn into something with a legacy. But when you see the positive impact the Raptors had on the community over the years, it’s really something.” 

Attendees packed U of T's Goldring Centre to hear the origin story of the Toronto Raptors.

Peterson, who was premier of Ontario from 1985 to 1990, said he had never even been to an NBA game when Bitove, who he described as a diehard basketball fan, approached him about putting in an ownership bid for the team. 

“I went home to my three kids and told them about this guy who wants to go after an NBA franchise and they said, ‘Do it, it’s more fun than politics,’ so the next day, I called John to say I’m in,” said Peterson. 

Asked to share how the team's logo came about, Bitove said the goal was to come up with a design that was different, bold and had a global feel. To the delight of the audience, many of whom were decked out in Raptors gear, O’Grady shared a few slides showing the logo's evolution.

The design of the Raptors' original logo aimed to be different, bold and project a global feel.

“The kids from the focus groups loved it,” said O’Grady. 

The audience also learned that the Raptor almost ended up being lime green, but the owners decided to go with red to highlight the team's association with Canada. 

Joseph Wong, U of T’s vice president, international, and host of Joe’s Basketball Diaries – the second season of which launches soon – led another panel discussion that featured Shireen Ahmed, a sports journalist and activist; Sam Ibrahim, president of Arrow Group of Companies, co-founder of the Scarborough Shooting Stars and U of T supporter; and Tamara Tatham, head coach of the U of T Varsity Blues women’s basketball team. They spoke about their introduction to the Raptors, how they became devoted fans and where they were when the Raptors won the NBA championship in 2019. 

From left to right: Joseph Wong, Shireen Ahmed, Tamara Tatham and Sam Ibrahim.

While the pre-Raptors professional sports landscape in the GTA was dominated by hockey and baseball, the panel discussed how the accessibility of basketball and soccer carried more appeal to minority and immigrant communities. 

“I lived in Scarborough and we knew the basketball court was a safe place,” said Ibrahim. “That’s the power of sport – to build relationships and communities.”

“We spent all our time in the gym,” added Tatham, who started playing basketball in community centres, also in Scarborough.

KPE Dean Gretchen Kerr addressed the audience in the Goldring Centre.​​​​​​

When the Raptors came to town, Ibrahim, Tatham and Ahmed said they saw themselves reflected on the big court – and in the stands.

“It’s one thing to talk about inclusivity, it’s another to do something about it,” said Ahmed, who noted the Raptors were the first NBA team to offer an athletic hijab for Muslim women. “The Raptors saw their communities and they were intentional about making them all feel included.”

Professor Gretchen Kerr, dean of KPE, said all proceeds from the ticket sales from the event would go to the Indigenous and Black student-athlete bursary and described the evening as a “wonderful reminder and testament of the power of sport to bring people together, and foster access and inclusion.”

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