The six-time All-Star guard returned to Toronto for the first time in more than two years, his first trip north of the border since an offseason trade with the Miami Heat.
“I missed everything about the city, the country, the organization,” Lowry said in a pregame press conference. “It’s a lot to miss.”
A key part of Toronto’s 2019 NBA championship, Lowry spent nine seasons with the Raptors. He remains the franchise leader in assists (4,277), steals (873), 3-pointers (1,518) and triple-doubles (16).
“It’s a place that I called home for a long time,” Lowry said of his emotions about returning to his old arena. “I’ve won a lot of basketball games here, set a lot of records here. I have a banner hanging in there. It’s just a special place.
“It’s not my home anymore, but it’s a place I’ll always call home.”
After a video tribute spanning his Raptors career, Lowry was introduced as a visitor the same way he once was as a local star, with the words, “From North Philly to your city…”
With a packed house of cheering fans, Lowry led her two young sons onto center court, raising her hands in gratitude but managing to contain her emotions. He had previously suggested he might cry but pledged before the game to try and hold it back.
“I know if I cry, DeMar is going to laugh at me and it’s going to go viral and stuff,” Lowry said, referring to longtime bandmate DeMar DeRozan. “I can’t wait to be right in the moment.”
Lowry last played in Toronto on February 28, 2020, when the defending champion Raptors lost to Charlotte.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember who we played against,” Lowry said.
Less than two weeks later, the NBA season was interrupted by the pandemic, eventually resuming at Walt Disney World, where Toronto’s title defense ended in a seven-game loss to Boston in the second round.
With the Canadian border still closed by COVID-19, the Raptors were forced to relocate to Tampa, Florida for Lowry’s final season with the team in 2020-21, depriving Toronto fans of a proper goodbye .
Struggling to win in their temporary home after the team was hit by a coronavirus outbreak, Toronto came close to trading Lowry at the deadline last season. Instead, they traded him to Miami this summer, landing guard Goran Dragic and forward Precious Achiuwa in exchange.
“It was just about time,” Lowry said of his amicable departure from Toronto. “It was naturally a good exit phase. It was time for the next phase.
Lowry has found the perfect accessory for the elegant blue suit he wore to his pre-game press conference: his massive diamond ring from Toronto’s 2019 Championship.
“It’s special to me and the city, and the country, and the organization, so why not wear it?” said Lowry.
Earlier, Toronto Mayor John Tory officially proclaimed Kyle Lowry Day in the city on Sunday to mark the return of the star guard. In a video posted to Twitter, the mayor praised Lowry for his game and his charity work off the court.
“We love him, we always will,” Tory said.
Lowry did not play between Jan. 15 and Feb. 3 for personal reasons, missing all three previous meetings between the Heat and Raptors. Those games included Miami’s Feb. 1 visit to Toronto, which was played in front of only a few hundred fans due to Ontario government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those restrictions have since been lifted and large crowds arrived early to welcome Lowry back to Toronto, cheering as he came out for warm-ups.
While Raptors fans were thrilled to see Lowry back in town, coach Nick Nurse wasn’t laying down the welcome mat for his former star.
“I hope God ruins his night for us,” Nurse joked.
Lowry insisted he was up for Nurse’s challenge.
“As a competitor, I know the competitiveness is going to come out, so I’ll try to earn it,” he said, “but I’m going to enjoy this moment and enjoy being here.”
With Heat coach Erik Spoelstra entering health and safety protocols on Sunday, assistant Chris Quinn led the Heat in Lowry’s emotional return. Quinn said Lowry has had a big impact on Miami since he arrived.
“A guy with his stature, his leadership qualities, he took our team to another level,” Quinn said. “We certainly enjoy being with him and learning from him.”