Everybody wants to get their hands on vintage Raptors merchandise

Vintage Raptors gear has been in high demand this postseason. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vintage Raptors gear has been in high demand this postseason. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

TORONTO — When Drake showed up to Game 1 of the NBA Finals in a signed Toronto Raptors Dell Curry jersey, it caught the attention of everyone in the arena as a master troll move. It also caught the eye of jersey collectors all over the city.

Joshua Roter, who co-owns In Vintage We Trust, a vintage store located in the Parkdale neighborhood of downtown Toronto, was impressed, mainly because decades of purchasing and sourcing vintage items including NBA jerseys have made him appreciate the rarity of them.

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“The thing that makes the [Dell] Curry jersey so cool is when Nike produces jerseys for a team, the star player is always the most in production,” Roter said. “The only jersey that would have hit shelves would have been a Vince Carter. For a Hakeem Olajuwon or Dell Curry, you would probably had to have purchased it at Air Canada Centre. Finding one this many years later is really difficult.”

In the days leading up to the Finals, customers weren’t as astute when it came to understanding the painstaking efforts to track down a vintage Raptors-related piece. Even Drake had to track down the Curry jersey from Brooklyn and have it driven to Toronto for him in time for Game 1.

Roter has received a massive surge in Raptors memorabilia requests in his direct messages. One customer wanted to acquire an Oliver Miller jersey. Another wanted a Kyle Lowry Memphis Grizzlies jersey.

“A lot of people don’t understand the appetite for vintage Raptors stuff,” Roter said. “They think it’s just at the store waiting for them, like, hey dude, there’s a rack of dinosaur tees right here just waiting for you and no one else wants it.”

There’s been an increased demand both locally and internationally for old Raptors jerseys in recent years, especially for the original purple with the dinosaur logo. There are many reasons as to why, including the return of 90s nostalgia and basic supply and demand. According to Roter, because the team is based in Canada, their products weren’t always carried by big box distributors in the United States.

The most important factor, though, is the Raptors are finally good.

“The franchise was bad,” Roter said. “No one wanted to wear Raptors stuff because of that, and because it looked hilarious and ridiculous.”

The purple dinosaur jerseys might still look hilarious and ridiculous to people today, but there’s a different attachment now. The Raptors are in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. For the very first time, it’s not embarrassing to wear their merchandise in public in May and into June.

Kai, another jersey collector in Toronto who has been a lifelong Raptors fan, was one of those people who wasn’t a huge fan. “I wasn’t crazy about it,” Kai said. “I thought it was a childish image. But now, the dinos are very hot.”

Kai grew up skateboarding in basketball jerseys and Jordan sneakers. After Carter’s iconic performance at the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, Kai purchased his first authentic jersey, the same one worn by Carter that evening. Today, he estimates his Raptors jersey collection is at 50, a smaller amount than he says some of his Instagram followers might think, but they are all special pieces to him, including jerseys of Alvin Robertson and John Wallace.

Kai's Raptors jersey collection is something else.
Kai's Raptors jersey collection is something else.

Drake isn’t the only who has worn a rare vintage Raptors jersey to a game during these Finals. Kai, who spent over a decade collecting every Damon Stoudamire jersey available, told his friend throughout the playoff run if the Raptors finally made it to the Finals, he would take his most treasured Stoudamire game-worn jersey out of the frame, and actually wear it to a game.

He kept his promise on Sunday, wearing the jersey to attend the game with a friend. Although he did express disappointment that his friend’s NBA Finals-related shirt received more attention from fans in the arena.

“At the end of the day you have people who look at [a jersey] as a tank top,” Kai said. “They don’t care if it’s fake or not.

“Nobody talks about the quality of the jerseys. The Champion jerseys from the 90s. The design, the quality, the graphics. Those fetch the most [on the market] right now.”

Drake’s jersey choice for Game 1 impressed Kai (although both he and Roter said if they could outfit Drake for an NBA Finals game, they would choose a Percy Miller a.k.a. Master P Raptors jersey, which, by the way, is a jersey both of them own). “I thought it was a great story,” Kai said. “It was a great tactic.” The Toronto jersey collector does joke that he’s somewhat surprised Drake didn’t hit him up, especially since he has messaged him before to inquire about jerseys and also because at the top of Kai’s Instagram grid is a photo of a Dell Curry Raptors jersey.

The Finals is only going to further the demand for vintage Raptors jerseys in the market, and Drake’s troll move in Game 1 will only push that even more. After Game 1, Kai saw a game-worn Dell Curry Raptors jersey get listed on eBay for $3,000.

If the Raptors never bring back purple as a primary color for their uniforms, the demand and prices for vintage dinosaur pieces will only keep going up.

“The team has been running away from the purple for years,” Roter said. “They don’t want anything to do with that era. It’s ironic, because now that’s what everyone wants.”

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