Here is a ranking of my favourite NBA players since 2011:
1. Jonas Valanciunas
Here is a ranking of reasons for why I’m up at night crying:
1. Jonas Valanciunas
Before I become a puddle of tears, let’s look at a recent Raptors transaction that didn’t leave me emotionally devastated and dysfunctional for several hours in the middle of a work day.
If you happened to be a basketball fan during Linsanity, you knew you were witnessing a truly magical time.
And if you happened to be a Knicks fan during Linsanity, you and your tortured fan base finally experienced happiness.
Aaaaand if you happened to be Asian during Linsanity, honestly … that shit was life changing.
Now imagine being all three.
Representation in North American athletics is something that often alludes this particular community. Seeing Lin succeed at the highest possible level helped create and crush many Asian social identities.
He created new opportunities for Asians to view and value themselves, a chance to re-evaluate how they self-identity, while simultaneously crushing the nagging doubts of pursuing success in fields atypical to “Asian standards”.
He helped many people – and hopefully many rigid, traditional Asian parents – understand that some of us were born to crossover, not cross-multiply.
At the height of Linsanity, Jeremy punctuated his appearance on the global basketball scene with his game-winner against the Raptors.
And now he’s playing for Toronto.
Welcome home, Jeremy.
Being a fan is weird.
How can one get so emotionally attached to an artist or performer, when they have never shared a meaningful in-person interaction, conversation, or connection?
It’s easy to understand how young fans of pop artists can get caught up in the mania of fandom.
They’re young, immature, and inexperienced. They’re still developing a full range of emotions and learning how to deal with them. Their hormones are all out of wack. And most importantly … teenagers are dumb.
That being said, there is very little difference between teeny-boppers filming themselves lip-syncing over an Ariana Grande song, and full-grown men arguing over Twitter about who the greatest basketball player of all-time is.
What unites them is a burning passion for something they enjoy, and the people who bring them this joy.
Jonas Valanciunas brought me joy.
My only real-life moment with JV was a fleeting one.
I ran into him in front of the Raptors practice gym at Scotiabank Arena. I said “hi” and he gave me a thumbs up with his hand cast. I then proceeded to watch him pound the gym door because the scanner didn’t recognize his injured finger.
It was easily one of the best moments of my life. In a matter of seconds, JV reminded me why he was one of my favourite players of all-time: he was so damn likeable.
JV brought joy to millions of fans, as well.
I reached out to several of my friends and members of #TheNorth for their favourite memories about JV, as well as their reactions to his trade to Memphis.
Many will remember him for his monster games, postseason heroics, and on-court performances:
“It’s sad to see him go but I have some pretty fond memories of him bounding up the floor like a sasquatch. Super underrated player, never got to reach this potential probably cause of Lowry and Demar’s ball dominant style, but he hustled hardcore and always gave 100%. JV had some HUGE 20 and 10 games in the playoffs, and I don’t think we would’ve beaten Miami without him.” – Lucas (@lucastobincampbell)
JV won many hearts with his goofy antics and memorable off-court moments:
“My favourite JV memory has to be the night FVV scored a career high of 22 points. During FVV’s media scrum, JV walks behind Fred with the same sign he used to congratulate Demar’s recent 52 career high points, except with the 5 crossed off and replaced with a 2. His funny personality along with the energy he brought to every game is definitely why Toronto loved him so much.” – Calvin (@_calvinb)
“I really liked JV for his off-court video bombing antics. As JV leaves, Raptors fans will never forget Matt Devlin’s call, “Death, Taxes and, JV’s 3’s” whenever he makes a 3-point shot.” – Albert (@asautencio)
What JV meant for the city and the Raptors organization, may be his lasting impact:
“JV is straight-up a class act. He is bigger than basketball and showed that through his commitment to his teammates, fans, and the Raptors organization. His Lithuanian presence will certainly be missed in Toronto.” – Cindy (@truongcindy)
“I knew that he was going to be one of the Raptors’ best players, but I thought that he would be with the team longer. I got to watch JV grow to be the player he is and was for the Raptors, ever since he was drafted. All the best to one of the best centers in Raptors history.” – Ede (@TonyEde97)
“JV was what you called a professional and a teammate. Here’s a man who didn’t complain when he started getting benched in 4th quarters. Here’s a man who didn’t complain he lost his starting spot. Here’s a man who always worked hard at his craft to better himself. Here’s a man who stepped up his game in the playoffs when he was needed the most. And here’s a man who has nothing but gratitude for the city. It’s something we fans took for granted and now he’s gone. He’s in a better place I think for his career and I wish him the best.” – Joseph (@just_a_dancing_joe)
Sometimes, a lack of words is the only way to properly express one’s self.
“I’ve thought about this for a couple of days and I honestly can’t believe that I can’t find the right words to articulate how sad I am about JV leaving… No remarks from me would do the feeling (and 8 years of memories) the proper justice.” – Steph (@stephfrances)
And for my brother, his love for JV led him across the world.
More than just a funny guy who couldn’t get into his own gym, JV represented a lot of things to me.
One of these things was hope.
His drafting in 2011 served as a beacon of light for a failing franchise.
Before he even played his first game as a Raptor, JV won me over. As we vacationed in the Philippines during the summer of 2012, my brother and I spent a substantial amount of time watching and cheering Jonas and the Lithuanian national team as they competed in the Olympics.
Coming in as a bruising centre, JV did not fit the typical “European” player mold. His refusal to succumb to stereotypes and expectations was inspiring and honorable.
Though he may not have be utilized as some hoped him to be, his ability to understand his role within the team was beyond selfless. And even when the NBA game evolved to pass him by, his ability to adapt showed a maturity and professionalism that highlighted his depth of character.
A character that shone through the way he interacted with his teammates, media, and fans. A class clown, JV’s greatest comedic moments only served to further cement his place in Toronto Raptors lore.
Coming in as a stubbled, 20-year-old that barely knew English, Jonas grew into a grizzled vet, both on and off the court.
As JV provided me with hope back in 2011, I am left with the same feeling in 2019.
I am hopeful that JV will bring his joyful disposition to a new situation and continue to grow as a player and a person. And I am hopeful that his trade was not in vain, and that the Raptors can enjoy unprecedented success in the playoffs — which is painfully ironic, as the playoffs is where JV has shone the most.
My favourite JV memory will forever remain the video that first introduced me to his personality.
Thank you, JV for all the memories.
And, wictory baby.