Despite Raps’ success, Bettman can’t see basketball becoming Canada’s top sport

Canada has always been a hockey-crazed nation and even with the Toronto Raptors recent championship run, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

In a press conference Tuesday, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri suggested to a reporter that one day basketball could outpace hockey in popularity.

“Shanny [Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan] is my boy and so is [Leafs’ general manager] Kyle [Dubas], but I really do think so [that basketball could eventually replace hockey as the top sport in Canada],” Ujiri said.  

“The way basketball is growing around the world. I do think we’re lucky that in a place like Canada that there is room for baseball, there is room for basketball, there is room for hockey, there is room for soccer.”

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Tuesday. (Albert Leung/CBC)

Raptors fever gripped the nation as the team defeated the two-time reigning champion Golden State Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals earlier this month. However, Bettman was sceptical when he spoke to Hockey Night in Canada podcast host Rob Pizzo.

“I didn’t hear Masai say that. I’d be surprised. We have seven franchises in Canada. It’s great for the Raptors that after 24 years they had a great run and they should be congratulated on that,” Bettman told Pizzo.

“But the NBA in Canada has had mixed results. It didn’t work out so well in Vancouver. I think time will tell, but I think when people think about the heart and soul of Canada, they think about hockey.”

The Grizzlies lasted only six seasons in Vancouver (from 1995-2001) before being relocated to Memphis – leaving the Raptors as the lone Canadian team in the NBA. However, Toronto’s championship run has reignited interest in perhaps adding another team north of the border.

And it’s impossible to ignore that’s it been 26 long years since the Montreal Canadiens became the last Canadian franchise to win the Stanley Cup with their 1993 victory.

Winning has certainly helped boost the Raptors’ popularity, but as Bettman said — only time will tell on whether that continues to grow.

Pizzo’s entire conversation with Bettman will be available Thursday on the season finale of the Hockey Night in Canada podcast.

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