For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are in the NBA Eastern Conference finals. As such, Torontonians – and also Canadians – have come down with a case of basketball fever, with television ratings finally on par with Hockey Night in Canada numbers. Game 7 against the Miami Heat, for example, set a basketball rating record for TSN, with an average of 1.5 million tuning in for the game, and 2.7 million for the fourth quarter.
Yes, the odds are surely against them, but the wave of enthusiasm for the Raptors right now is unprecedented. To quote hip hop star Drake, the team’s global ambassador, what a time to be alive.
As most pundits know, it’s common in cases like this for mayors and elected officials of participating cities to place friendly wagers with each other in a bid promote the game and support their teams. And while Toronto Mayor John Tory and Cleveland’s Frank G. Jackson have yet to proposition the other – though there’s still plenty of time – two rabbis, one from Toronto and one from Cleveland, are already making things interesting.
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl and Rabbi Stephen Weiss, spiritual leaders of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation and Cleveland’s B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, respectively, are betting over either a bottle “of the finest Canadian Club” if the Cavs win or a selection of fine brews from Great Lakes Brewery’s if the Raps win.
“Rabbi Weiss and I are friendly rivals for this series,” Frydman-Kohl said. “Our congregations are both Conservative, we send our young people to Camp Ramah Canada, and we have members with children married to people in each other’s communities. The wife of my associate is a Clevelander with a passionate interest in the Cavs. The wager is just a way to make the competition a bit more keen. We also need to add some beer and basketball to our Shabbat kiddush.”
“The bet is mostly just for fun,” said Rabbi Weiss. “Also, our supply of quality schnapps for Shabbat kiddush is running low. Rabbis often use sports to connect to congregants, and sports analogies to teach Torah. No doubt a sermon or two will come from this.”
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said it would be nice if the Raptors could “dethrone the King,” referring to superstar LeBron James, who is trying to lead his Cavs to the Cleveland’s first major sports championship since the Browns won a pre-Super Bowl NFL title in 1964.
“For many of us in Toronto, who have watched the Raptors since their beginnings and we are delighted to finally see them reach this point,” Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said. “They have to be strong throughout each game. They can’t relax. They must be relentless. I think that the Raptors can step up to the intensity and demands of this next level of play. I’d like to see them go all the way.”
Rabbi Weiss admitted the Raptors are a tenacious and tough opponent, but he’s confident the Cavaliers will prevail.
“In the end I know James, [Kevin] Love, [Kyrie] Irving and their gang will be unstoppable,” he said.
Only time will tell.
Tip-off for Game 1 is tonight at 8:30 p.m.