The mayor of Ottawa is urging the Toronto Raptors to skip Washington and visit Canada’s capital to celebrate the first NBA championship by a team north of the border.
In an online post, Jim Watson urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to extend the invitation.
“Forget the White House for a victory lap. Come to Ottawa and Parliament Hill so Canada can congratulate you,” Mr. Watson wrote.
The Prime Minister’s Office has previously expressed an interest in inviting the Raptors to Ottawa but has not issued a public statement since Thursday’s win. A PMO spokesperson said there were no plans to announce as of Friday. Mr. Trudeau posted pictures throughout the playoffs of him watching the Raptors games on television with his children. A spokesperson for the Raptors said it was too early to comment on the issue.
No NBA championship team has visited the White House since Donald Trump was inaugurated as President in January, 2017. Some Raptors players and executives have spoken out strongly against Mr. Trump’s initial policies on immigration. The tone of those comments suggest it is unlikely the Raptors would be interested in a White House invite.
Whether Ottawa in an election year is any more appealing is an open question.
The leaders of the three main political parties have all made efforts to associate themselves with the popular Raptors during the historic playoff run. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer attended a game during the first round and was interviewed on the sidelines as part of TSN’s national broadcast. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh posted a video of himself cheering at the May 25 home game that saw the Raptors win the Eastern Conference finals.
No major professional baseball, basketball or hockey team from Canada has won a championship since the Toronto Blue Jays’ back-to-back World Series victories in 1992 and 1993 and the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup win in 1993. When the Jays won in 1992, they visited the White House and attended a reception in Ottawa hosted by Governor-General Ramon Hnatyshyn at Rideau Hall.
The Raptors have just one Canadian on the roster, Chris Boucher, but the players have welcomed the support the team has received from across the country. The playoff run also brought attention to the fact that two of the team’s African-born players – Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka – regularly address Canada’s francophone media in French.
“Canada is a bilingual country so I’m always happy to have that opportunity to talk to the francophone community,” Mr. Siakam told a student reporter in French earlier this month. “Their support is exceptional.”
Presidential invitations to the White House following a major sports victory traditionally had been nothing more than a benign photo op.
A bit of tension surfaced after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Goalie Tim Thomas took a pass on visiting the White House when his teammates met with U.S. President Barrack Obama, citing political reasons for his absence.
White House visits by winning sports teams became much more of a flashpoint following the election of Mr. Trump, who has sharply criticized National Football League players for kneeling during national anthems to protest against racism and police brutality.
In 2017, Golden State Warriors stars and NBA champions Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant said they didn’t want to follow through with the traditional visit.
Mr. Trump then announced on Twitter that his invitation was withdrawn.
The Warriors opted that year to tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington instead.
During the 2018 NBA finals between Golden State and the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, Mr. Curry and Mr. James both announced their plans before the series was even decided.
“I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants the invite anyway,” Mr. James said at the time.
In the 2019 NBA Finals between Toronto and Golden State, the question of a White House visit never came up during the many player news conferences.
Raptors playoff MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is set to become a free agent next month, visited the White House after winning the 2014 championship with the San Antonio Spurs. He later posted an image of his visit with President Obama and called it “one of my greatest experiences.”