Raptors' diamond-studded championship rings a labour of love
The Toronto Raptors made quite a statement last June -and wanted to do the same with the rings celebrating that unlikely and long-awaited NBA championship.
Mainstay point guard Kyle Lowry was called in to dish out yet another assist - a hand with the design and it's safe to say the end result was mission accomplished.
The rings, which were presented to Raptors players, coaches, staffers and ownership before Tuesday's season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans, are certainly eye-catching. Designed by Baron Championship Rings, they're the second-largest in North American sports history. Only the New England Patriots have made bigger ones, and that was only after winning a sixth Super Bowl since 2001 back in February. As someone remarked, when winning becomes that commonplace, you have to make your rings stand out.
Any long-suffering fan knows that winning isn't all that commonplace in Toronto, but that's also why so much thought went into crafting the end product, the top tier out of five different versions.
"It's something you earned. It took a long time to get," Lowry said on a recent conference call with a handful of Raptors beat writers.
"It's the first one in the organization's history and I think that was one of the things we wanted to make sure it stood apart from every other ring that's been done before. It's the first team outside of the U.S. to have a ring, to win a championship," Lowry said. "So we were like, 'Listen we can't have it like anyone else, we need it to be different, because it's definitely special.'
"And I think we just wanted to make sure that honestly, we wanted to spend as much money as we possibly could," Lowry added, his mischievous grin practically revealing itself through the phone line.
Every last detail on the rings was weighed and debated. Lowry said Judy Tanenbaum (the wife of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment co-owner Larry Tanenbaum) and Suzanne Rogers (wife of co-owner Edward Rogers III) originally wanted something smaller, but Lowry talked them up.
The final result was 14 carats of diamonds and more than 650 diamonds in all, topped by a 1.25-carat diamond on top of the Larry O'Brien Trophy (the largest single diamond in the history of professional sports rings) with 14 carats of yellow gold on the ring, 16 rubies representing the 16 playoff victories to win it all and the jersey numbers of all sixteen players on the roster.
You'll also notice the CN Tower, six diamonds - representing Toronto, "The 6ix" - Scotiabank Arena and a chevron with 'NORTH' spelled out on it. The chevron is a nod to the jerseys the Raptors wore during their triumph in Oakland, with 'NORTH' being a nod to the 'We The North' marketing campaign that morphed into the team's identity.
"One-of-a-kind. The story on the ring is amazing," Lowry said. "Inside the ring, everyone has their own writing on there or signature or stamp that they wanted to have on there to make it really personal."
Raptors players besides Lowry and most staffers didn't get to see the rings until the ceremony on Tuesday, which is why Lowry was initially reluctant to share details until he was told a few of us had seen a sample of his own ring.
"Oh, boo," quipped Lowry when he learned the cat was out of the bag.
After that, though, he was happy to describe them, clearly proud and honoured that the organization had asked him to be a big part of the process (Lowry even flew in for the final meeting). He wanted people to say, 'Wow' - and they will.
Both Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chief marketing officer Shannon Hosford and Baron president Peter Kanis wanted to make it clear Lowry was adamant that everyone, no matter what tier of ring they received, would be able to put some sort of personal touch on it (of course, Lowry would not reveal what he inscribed on his own ring and he wouldn't confirm he FaceTimed Kawhi Leonard a look at the ring either).
"This is a statement piece, kind of you don't wear it every day, you wear it once in a while," Lowry said about why he wanted such a large ring, adding the increased size allowed the details to stand out more.
"That was a big thing for me having the (74) diamonds in there because that indicates how many wins that we had (in the regular season and playoffs), that it got to that point.
"The players' names around each player, individual numbers, because every player that was a part of us had a piece of that," he said. "The red rubies, making sure you are keeping the Canadian flag in there and the North chevron, the jerseys we kind of won it in, it made it even more special."
Though he hadn't yet seen it, head coach Nick Nurse indicated Lowry had been hinting at what to expect.
"It's not a ring anymore, it's like a piece of furniture," laughed Nurse on Tuesday morning after saying he'd be wearing his slightly smaller 1985 Iowa high school championship ring to the game.
According to Hosford, the design process kicked off nearly immediately following those heady days in June.
"Pretty much a week after the championship. I think as an organization, we're gonna have some downtime after all that excitement, then you're like, 'Oh great we can design a ring,' " Hosford told the Sun.
Three ring designers were invited in. Lowry said he thought the first presentation was unbeatable, until Baron came in and "blew us away, it was a unanimous decision."
Baron had designed title commemorating rings for Toronto FC and Raptors 905 and was the only Canadian company in the bidding process, but still had to win out with the best product.
"We worked with them in the past and we knew that they were fantastic, but it was ultimately the ring that they delivered," Hosford said.
"We just wanted the best ring. And it was, hands down. There was a lot of key stakeholders around the table when we saw this ring There was no question in terms of a unanimous decision that this was the ring that we loved.
"Everything on this ring is very, very thoughtful, and it tells the story of the Raptors and their journey here," Hosford said.
"Traditionally, rings have just been the logo on the top and I think that's what a lot of people (speculated they'd see)."
Instead, they'll see a lot more.
And what did Lowry expect his teammates to say when they finally laid eyes on the end product?
"They're going to be like, can I say this politely? What the f-. I know you can't write (that). Maybe WTF. Does that work, maybe?"
Probably not, Kyle, but the rings certainly do.[email protected]
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