The Raptors’ title run and the gargantuan television audiences it attracted have led Grunwald to proclaim, as he did in a recent phone interview, that “this is a basketball nation now.” Other prominent members of the Canadian basketball community say the same. The surest way to hush lingering skeptics would be to send men’s and women’s national teams to Tokyo, but no one is quite sure what sort of team Nurse will get to coach. Canada’s women, led by the W.N.B.A.’s Kia Nurse (no relation to the men’s coach) and ranked No. 4 in the world, are regarded as medal contenders.
Jamal Murray, Canada’s best men’s player, could make a deep run in the N.B.A. playoffs with the Denver Nuggets, potentially precluding a national team stint. Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins, another top talent, hasn’t played for Canada since 2015. And Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s blossoming guard, has been sidelined by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which could complicate Canada’s efforts to sell him on the off-season rigors of international basketball.
“We got an all-N.B.A. team,” the Knicks’ RJ Barrett, who is Canadian, said last month, insisting they will have enough to qualify no matter who plays.
Lake and Blasko know this much: They can’t do any more to enhance the team’s chances.
“For the people in Oakland, it was just the floor that was taking up space that they were probably never going to use again,” Lake said. “For us, it’s the most important floor in Canadian basketball history.”
Hyperbole? Not to Grunwald. A slew of loonie placements and derivative concepts since 2002 have failed to deliver any Canadian sports magic — including when Masai Ujiri, Toronto’s president of basketball operations, placed a two-dollar Canadian toonie coin under the team’s practice court in Tampa, Fla., in December. It still has been, to put it mildly, an arduous pandemic season for the displaced Raptors, but Grunwald just chuckled as he recounted Lake and Blasko’s persistence.
Nearly eight years removed from his last taste of the N.B.A., with the Knicks, Grunwald said he couldn’t help but get swept up in “the joy they have for basketball.”
“It’s really refreshing,” Grunwald said. “It makes you feel good about our sport and about Canada.”