Who needs a Lucky Loonie buried at centre when you can have the entire playing surface?
The court at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on which the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship, will be installed in Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre for the Olympic qualifying tournament June 29 to July 4. The Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA final and the championship galvanized the nation. Victoria organizers are hoping that mojo will rub off on the Canadian national team in its bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Never underestimate the role that superstitions and omens play in the sports world.
“We have acquired an iconic piece of Canadian basketball history and are hopeful of the karma that comes with it,” said Clint Hamilton, chair of the Victoria organizing committee.
“It will become a legacy of Victoria hosting the Olympic qualifying tournament, and a symbol of what we believe the Canadian team will achieve on that floor. The Raptors winning the NBA championship caused a surge of interest in basketball in Canada, with so many people who watched that journey and so many children inspired by it, and it was an inflection point for the sport in this country. We believe Canada qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics will be a further inflection point for basketball in our country.”
There are 17 Canadians in the NBA this season.
Canada has not been to the Olympics in men’s basketball since two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of Victoria led the national team to the 2000 Sydney Summer Games.
Such is the burden of expectation that even help from beyond sometimes needs to be summoned. A Canadian Zamboni driver famously buried a loonie beneath centre ice of the Salt Lake City arena and Canada went on to win gold in both men’s and women’s hockey in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The Oracle Arena basketball floor cost $270,000, paid for by organizing committee member Scott Lake, proving that good vibes don’t come cheap. Lake is an Islander and avid basketball follower, who helped co-found Shopify, and is the main reason $3 million was raised to stage the Olympic qualifier in Victoria.
“Scott is passionate about that floor and what occurred on it,” said Hamilton.
“And he is passionate about what will continue to occur on it for Canadian basketball.”
The Warriors are moving into a new arena in the Bay Area. The Oracle Arena floor, which has such meaning for Canadian fans, is now in storage in Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The centre circle will be repainted with the FIBA and Olympic logos. The floor will remain in Victoria following the qualifying tournament for future events.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, postponed from last summer, are proceeding July 23 to Aug. 8.
“We have been working diligently with the provincial health office, sport branch and [world governing body] FIBA to deliver this event safely,” said Hamilton.
“It has required organizational nimbleness and flexibility.”
Whether fans will be allowed into the Memorial Centre for the Olympic qualifying tournament will depend on health guidelines in effect at the time.
Canada, Greece, China, Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey will battle on Blanshard Street for the lone Olympic berth out of the Victoria qualifier. The other three last-chance qualifying tournaments are taking place in Split, Croatia; Kaunas, Lithuania; and Belgrade, Serbia. The winner of each tournament will take the final four berths into the Tokyo Olympics.