Toronto Raptors fans willed first NBA title success 'into existence'

    (CNN)And breathe. The Drake curse is over. More poignantly, the rapper and the Toronto Raptors most recognizable fan quickly summed up the depth of feeling in the Canadian city -- and Canada -- after the team secured its first NBA title after defeating the Golden State Warriors.

    "We did this off of heart," said Drake. "We did this off of love. We willed this into existence."
    The Canadian music star has been ever-present during the Raptors' run to the Finals, and his almost fanatical support has put noses out of joint across the league.
      To commemorate the Raptors' momentous win, Drake is also releasing two new songs -- "Omertá" and "Money in the Grave." But for Raptors fans everywhere, this hasn't been an easy journey.

      Long haul

      "We're going to make the NBA proud. We respect the trust that they've charged us with," said John Bitove Jr., president of the yet-to-be-named professional basketball franchise in Toronto back in 1993.
      Established on November 4, 1993 for a then-record expansion fee of $125 million, the Toronto Raptors were the 28th NBA franchise and the second Canadian franchise alongside the Vancouver Grizzlies.
      While the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis, Tennessee in 2001, the Raptors remained in Toronto and for its fans, the team's 2019 success has been a long time coming.
      In the 24 seasons of their existence, the Raptors have made the playoffs 11 times -- a good percentage on face value -- but have only reached the NBA finals once (this season).
      Although they've qualified for the playoffs for the past six seasons, the Raptors have been plagued by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, being knocked out three years in a row by King James.
      Following a 59-win season last season in which the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference finals, coach Dwane Casey -- appointed in 2011 -- was fired, days after being named NBA Coach of the Year.
      Due to the improvement the Raptors made under Casey's stewardship -- they finished with a record of 23-43 in his first season and a record of 59-23 in his final season -- the decision to replace him with his assistant, Nick Nurse, didn't go down well with many.
      However, what General Manager Bobby Webster did in the summer went a long way to rebuilding bridges.

      New beginnings

      DeMar DeRozan -- who blossomed into a perennial All-Star for the Raptors -- was traded in July 2018 to the San Antonio Spurs for 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
      As well as acquiring Danny Green from the Spurs and Marc Gasol from the Grizzlies, Nurse entered his first season at the helm with a seriously kitted out team.
      And they didn't disappoint. Leonard and fan-favourite Kyle Lowry were named as All-Stars, Green finished with the fifth highest 3-point percentage in the league and Pascal Siakam developed from an up-and-comer to a flat-out superstar.
      But it was during their playoff run that the Raptors, who receive a lot less media coverage compared to many of their American counterparts, really burst onto the scene.
      From Drake's almost comical reactions on the touchline and ability to get under the skin of MVP-hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo to Leonard's now-iconic game and series winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers, the stars seemed to align for the Raptors.
      Kawhi Leonard hits the game winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers.

      Canada's team

      There have been clips of viewing parties for the Raptors games all across Canada, and for Tas Melas -- a fan of the Toronto NBA team and co-host of "The Starters" -- the outpouring of support for the Toronto-based team has made him even more proud of being Canadian.
      "Even as somebody who supported team for a long time, I didn't know that this amount of support existed out there," Melas said.
      "More people in Canada watched Game 5 of the NBA fin