1,000 games played

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

Ed Pinckney won the tip from New Jersey's Armon Gilliam. A few seconds later, the ball settled into Alvin Robertson's hands just beyond the arc and he stroked a three-ball, sweet and silky.

As one, 33,306 people rose from their SkyDome seats with a thunderous roar. On the evening of Nov. 3, 1995, the NBA was back in Toronto after an absence of nearly half a century.

That was Game 1. Tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers, 12 years, three months, hundreds of players, six coaches, six general managers, one arena and two ownership groups later, the Raptors will play No. 1,000.

Along the pothole-filled road they've travelled, the Raptors have plumbed the depths of despair as a franchise, occasionally teasing their loyal fans with a handful of brilliant moments. Theirs is a relatively short history but one that is full of treachery, subterfuge, deception and gamesmanship. But enough about Isiah Thomas.

The intrigue actually began long before that, back in late 1992 and early '93 when both Larry Tanenbaum and John Bitove, Jr., were trying to fulfil lifelong dreams to bring the NBA to Toronto.

Tanenbaum, through his Palestra Group, that included CIBC and the beer boys from Labatt, had dropped a bid for an NBA expansion franchise the day the Blue Jays won their first World Series, in 1992.

While Palestra appeared to have more substance, the Bitove Group promised the NBA a new arena and that tipped the scales in its direction. Bitove was awarded the franchise but the arena ultimately would be the issue that forced him to give it up. In the interim, the team started its existence in the cavernous SkyDome.

- Ground Zero -- In his heyday, Robertson was a multi-dimensional player who once had a quadruple-double (only four have been recorded in NBA history) while playing for San Antonio. On that milestone opening night for the Raptors, at 33, he was near the end of his career but still poured in 30 to lead Toronto to a 14-point win over New Jersey.

Brendan Malone was handpicked by Thomas to coach a fledgling roster that included gigantic centre Oliver Miller, who ate himself out of the league, Acie Earl, John Salley and the young dynamo who turned the draft-day boos into his own personal love-in. That would be guard Damon Stoudamire, who would go on to win the NBA's rookie-of-the-year award.

- GAME 100: DEC. 7, 1996

HAWKS 101, RAPTORS 75

OVERALL RECORD: 27-73

All of the players in this intrigue knew one thing: To be viable, the Air Canada Centre had to house both the Raptors and the Maple Leafs.

Eventually, Bitove gave up and sold his share to partner Allan Slaight, who in turn passed control to Steve Stavro, the owner of the Maple Leafs and thus the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., monolith was born.

In the midst of that drama, Thomas, who had designs on scooping up the basketball team himself, recognized he couldn't tie the hockey and basketball teams together and decided to resign.

Meanwhile Stoudamire, upset at Thomas' departure, wanted out and Glen Grunwald, now the GM, eventually traded the player who had been, to that point, the team's foundation. A few months later, he would find a new cornerstone, Vince Carter.

- GAME 200: JAN. 12, 1998

NETS 108, RAPTORS 100

OVERALL RECORD: 56-144

On the court, the 1997-98 season was an unmitigated disaster. The Raptors won only 16 games, but Tracy McGrady, the team's top pick the year previous, was turning heads. But when Carter came on board to start the strike-shortened 1998-99 season, the team moved to a new level. They flirted with .500 in that 50-game schedule but blossomed in 1998-99, winning 45 games and making the playoffs for the first time.

- GAME 300: NOV. 7, 1999

RAPTORS 109, HORNETS 99

OVERALL RECORD: 93-207

Coach Butch Carter was able to get the most out of his young talent during the regular season in 1999-2000. But he tried to make a power play for Grunwald's job. Even though he was probably the best coach the team had had, he essentially fired himself by his backdoor politicking.

Meanwhile, Vince had blossomed into one of the game's biggest stars, earning his nickname, Air Canada.

- GAME 400: DEC. 14, 2000

RAPTORS 70, KNICKS 68

OVERALL RECORD: 147-253

The 2000-01 season still stands as the Raptors' most successful. They hired classy Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens who fashioned a 47-win season unmatched until 2006-07.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Raptors took out the Knicks in five games, then sent the conference semi-final against Philadelphia to a seventh game. Vince Carter had the series in his hands in the dying seconds but missed the jump shot.

- GAME 500: JAN. 18, 2002

RAPTORS 89, NETS 77

OVERALL RECORD: 205-295

The Raptors went on a long, steady decline that coincided with Vince's health problems. And as the team's decline accelerated, so did its star's desire to be elsewhere. Meanwhile, Grunwald, who had made so many good moves, stumbled. To convince Carter to stay, he had to re-sign most of the team's core players to long-term deals but they never performed again to earlier levels. The team won 42 games in '01-02 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

- GAME 600: MARCH 5, 2003

ROCKETS 97, RAPTORS 95

OVERALL RECORD: 243-357

The decline accelerated at an alarming rate. A team that had looked so good just two years previously, was now a mess, winning only 24 games in '02-03 and 33 a year later.

- GAME 700: APRIL 4, 2004

BUCKS 90, RAPTORS 83

OVERALL RECORD: 278-422

Grunwald was replaced by Rob Babcock, who inherited an unhappy Vince Carter, made a horrible trade with New Jersey -- getting little in return for a superstar -- and wasted a first-round pick on the alarmingly unathletic Rafael Araujo.

- GAME 800: NOV. 23, 2005

CLIPPERS 103, RAPTORS 100

OVERALL RECORD: 315-485

On its way to a 27-55 record in 2005-06, Babcock was jettisoned in late January and, a month later, a new era began when Bryan Colangelo came on board and made a swift series of moves to set the stage for a rapid turnaround.

With Chris Bosh coming into his own as a star, the rebuilt Raptors went from 27 wins to 47 in one off-season.

- GAME 900: DEC. 29, 2006

BULLS 107, RAPTORS 97

OVERALL RECORD: 354-546

With stable management and a young, improving team on the court, it can be said that the future of the Raptors never looked any brighter.

That said, we remember saying something similar when Carter and McGrady were leaping tall buildings, oh, about 500 games ago.

- GAME 1,000: FEB. 8, 2008

CLIPPERS AT RAPTORS

OVERALL RECORD: 414-585

Tonight, you can only wonder what the next 1,000 games will bring.


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