Toronto and Salt Lake City. With a little digging one would probably realize that the cities have more in common than you would think. If you just observe on the surface you know that both places get quite a bit of snow in the winter.
Another general observation is that the NBA teams of both cities are in the second round of the playoffs right now as the Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz are battling to advance to their respective conference finals.
This is the basketball bond between Toronto and Salt Lake City that I’m talking about. The commonality, not between Raptors and Jazz fans, but the shared trials and tribulations of Raptors and Utah Utes fans.
When the ball is tipped this evening in Air Canada Centre it will mark the third consecutive season that the Raptors have met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Playoffs. Former University of Kentucky guard and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has gone 166-80 the last three seasons but has seen his last two seasons thwarted at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavs.
Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while Cleveland appears more vulnerable than they ever have in the playoffs. There was no sweep in the first round that everyone had grown accustomed to, but rather a grueling seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers that just concluded Sunday afternoon.
Will Toronto be able to capitalize?
Fans who are old enough to remember the 1990’s Utah Utes know the feelings of Raptors fans all too well. They crossed paths with the Kentucky Wildcats six times between 1993 and 2003. Five of those meetings were in March with one preseason NIT clash in November thrown in for the heck of it.
Utah lost all six games.
The most brutal stretch for Utes fans had to be from 1996-98 when they met Kentucky in a Regional Semifinal in Minneapolis, a Regional Final in San Jose and a championship game in San Antonio.
Kentucky, like LeBron and the Cavs in 2016 and 2017, were just way too strong and loaded in 1996 and 1997 when they won the title and were tantalizingly close to going back to back.
The 1998 Cats, like LeBron and the Cavs in 2018, seemed more beatable than they had in a while from an outsider’s perspective. They weren’t blazing their way to the Final Four in blowout fashion (which included 101-70 and 72-59 defeats of Utah) like they were in ’96 and ’97 at Utah and the rest of the field’s expense.
Kentucky had gotten to the title game by winning a come from behind heart stopping 86-84 game against Duke in the Elite Eight and a grueling comeback 86-85 overtime win over Stanford in the Final Four.
The late great Rick Majerus was 517-216 in his illustrious career. A win against Kentucky always stayed just beyond his grasp.
When Utes fans take some moments to step away from what the Jazz are doing they may peep at what’s going on with the Raptors, then again they may not.
Either way they definitely know what they’re going through.