By Jason Thompson, an eight-year NBA veteran for the Raptors who’s a regular contributor for SportsBlog.com, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes
I’m like a kid in a candy store. To make the playoffs for the first time in eight NBA seasons, let’s just say it’s been a long time coming. Honestly, words can’t describe how I’m feeling right now. I am just so blessed to be in this situation and ready to embrace the moment.
For every NBA player, winning a championship is the ultimate goal. That’s what you suit up for. When the season starts, every team has the same record, every team has one goal. As the season progresses, and especially after the All-Star break, it either becomes more of a reality or a dream. You’re either in the hunt or you’re not. For nearly eight years, I have not been on a team that’s in the hunt—until now.
The Raptors are second in the Eastern Conference and coming off of a regular season with the best record in franchise history. I have a totally different mindset than in years past, when my NBA season ended and summer started in mid-April. My first couple years in the league, I remember finishing the regular season and going home to Philly, where I went to some of the Sixers’ playoff games. As much as it hurt to be watching and not playing, I still loved being around the game. But I remember the feeling of that playoff atmosphere, the amazing energy and vibe that filled up the arena. I’m so happy to be on the other side now.
When you’re on a team like this one, it’s all about getting collectively better, as opposed to when you are on a team that’s not playoff-bound and some players focus on individual stats and staying in the league. This is a resilient team that kept getting better all season, from the number one guy to the last man on the roster. That’s hard to do, but that’s what makes this team really special.
You can tell just from practice the last couple days how different the mindset is as we’ve headed into the postseason. It’s the playoffs; you’re playing for something now. Each game means something and you never want to take any moment for granted. We all want to reach the ultimate goal, but to reach that goal you have to be on your Ps and Qs more than ever when it comes to knowing the plays, knowing the personnel.
You have to be very prepared in order to win and advance. You either get four wins and advance or four losses and go home. So you have to play each game as a championship-level battle and do whatever it takes, offensively and defensively, to outsmart and outplay the other team. We are ready to play every game like it’s our last. It’s blood, sweat and tears time.
That said, we are taking it one game at a time. It’s all about little things that can make or break a win, which can really set the momentum of a series. You want to know as much information as possible so that you are prepared for the seven-game series. It’s also important to stay as loose and free as possible going into each game.
We know that we are entering a very different atmosphere than what it was like playing the Pacers during the regular season, but we feel confident and well prepared for when that ball tips. It’s my first time in a playoff situation, and I’m just going with the flow. Most of my teammates have been here before, so I’ve been speaking with them and listening to their advice. I’m eating right, getting my sleep and staying ready for the opportunity.
Ever since I signed here, the entire organization and fans brought me in with open arms. My teammates have helped me find my way and fit in, and the fans show me love all over the city. I know how loud and wild that it gets in Jurassic Park and in the Air Canada Centre, and we thrive off of that energy. These fans are very passionate, showing a lot of love and support every night, and that translates on to the court.
I’m also really happy to share this with my family and friends. My parents and my brother, Ryan, are coming out here for the first couple games. It will be fun for them to be around playoff basketball, too. And it will be really nice to have my support system in the building.
There are 400-plus players in the NBA. We all came from different AAU, high school and college programs, and have been part of winning programs on just about every level. To get to the playoffs, to get to this caliber, sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes you have to go through the bad to understand the good. I had seven different coaches and more than 100 teammates during my seven years in Sacramento, which made it very difficult to win. But I’m happy for that city to get a new arena and I’ll always appreciate those fans. Many of them have hit me up to congratulate me on getting to the playoffs, which has been really nice.
Getting to this point has taken a while, but I’m happy it’s happening now. And I am confident that there are positive things to come. If I ever write a book one day, I could share an interesting story, and hopefully it’s a story that has a good ending for years to come.
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