With just over one month until tip off for this summer’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the hype surrounding the Canadian Men’s Basketball Team and their last-chance opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Summer Game is palpable. What has been coined as the dawn of “The Golden Era” Canadian basketball will be put to the test. The Raptors won their Championship in 2019. The Women’s National Team is currently ranked 4th in the world. And now our Men’s Team, anchored by an influx of young, exciting talent, look to make their own statement this summer in Victoria and Tokyo.

We caught up with Raptors founder and Canada Basketball’s President and CEO, Glen Grunwald, to chat about his journey in basketball, how it led him to Canada, and why Canadians should be excited about this summer’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

We The West: Being American born, when did Canada first feel like home to you?

Glen Grunwald: I came to Toronto in 1994, and you know, it was a different experience for me. The subway system was different, milk came in bags, and there were loonies instead of dollar bills… All of those little things.

Starting up a business like the Raptors is such a consuming project. I think I felt more at home when we got a little more established and we were playing in our own arena—the Air Canada Centre opened and the reception from the fans and the community was so good. So, I would say probably around ‘98 or so it started to feel like home. Then, after I went away to work for the Knicks in New York, it felt like Toronto was the place I wanted to come back to.

WTW: Before the Raptors and Grizzlies, basketball in Canada was not even close to being in the same realm as hockey or baseball. In your opinion, how important was the introduction of Canadian NBA teams to the growth of the game in this country?

GG: I think it was an important catalyst. Canada didn't have its own major league professional basketball teams until the Raptors and Grizzlies arrived. When that happened, it was a huge boost to the popularity of the sport.

There was always a lot of good basketball, and a lot of good basketball people were already here in Canada before the arrival of the NBA. But then it just really took off. To be able to see the sport at its highest level, and be able to cheer for your own team, I think really increased the enjoyment and interest for fans. It also gave young people and players an opportunity to dream about becoming NBA players as well.

WTW: What were you most excited for when you took on the role of President and CEO of Canada Basketball?

GG: Just to continue the growth of basketball in Canada. We were on a real trajectory where our women's team had been in two Olympics already—now qualified for a third. Our men’s team showed great promise, although we hadn’t quite gotten over the hump yet, but we saw the talent in the pool. Then we saw the growth of the sport and how many kids are playing it and how many people enjoy watching it.

I wanted to continue to move the sport onward and upward, with an ultimate goal of getting a medal at the Olympics. That’s the opportunity that’s been delayed a year now, but it's going to happen. We're going to have our chance this year and I look forward to getting that done.

WTW: There’s been a lot of talk about right now being the “Golden Age of Basketball” in Canada. Should people believe the hype?

GG: Well, it's a good time for Canadian basketball that’s for sure. We have a recent NBA championship, we have more players than ever playing in the WNBA and the NBA, and across the country more people are watching and playing the game. So yeah, I think right now is The Golden Age, but I don't think we’ve topped out. I think we can continue to keep growing the game and experience the joy that comes with success in participating in such a great sport.

WTW: Why should Canadian basketball fans be excited about the Olympic Qualifying Tournament this summer?

GG: It's a chance to take the next step in our goal and to really create a home court advantage for our team. Hopefully we will be able to get fans in the arena, but if not, we’ll still need to support our players as they try to qualify for the Olympics. It's going to be an exciting brand of basketball—with some of the best players in the world—and we've got a real chance to not only qualify for the Olympics but win a medal. Canadian fans can be a part of this special time.

WTW: Is there anything else you’d like to add about basketball in Canada or the Olympic Qualifying Tournament?

GG: I appreciate the great work that has been going on in terms of putting together the Olympic qualifying tournament there in Victoria, and all the challenges that we experienced because of COVID. It's been wonderful to work with the community of Victoria, the support we’ve received, and all the people involved. I look forward to it all coming to fruition and to us qualifying for the Olympics.