The Making of the Raptors Commemorative Special Issue

From the initial (and hopeful) "They're gonna win" hunch to the first pages going to press (the morning after victory), Maclean's managing editor Charlie Gillis provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes recap.

The night of Thursday, June 14, the Raptors were crowned Canada’s first NBA champs.  At 9 a.m. the next morning, the first set of files for Maclean’s one-of-a-kind commemorative issue (100 pages of quality in-depth journalism) was sent to press at St. Joseph’s Concord print facility.  Our Maclean’s managing editor Charlie Gillis shares the grit, determination and heart-palpitating flurry – characteristics of the Raptors’ big finish itself – that went into the making of the one-of-a-kind keepsake edition
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“They’re gonna win.”

The words, uttered with supreme confidence, came from our director of circulation, Allan Yue, the morning after the Raptors had taken Game 1 of the NBA finals. He was pushing us to produce a special issue commemorating the championship – and never mind the three victories over a bona fide NBA dynasty standing between Toronto and a title. Allan is a Raptors fan to his bone marrow. But he knows better than anyone the cost of being wrong in such cases, and in this instance he liked the risk-reward calculation. Were we up to the challenge?

What followed was an all-hands-on-deck moment of the sort I’ve rarely seen in a long career in journalism. Our editor-in-chief, Alison Uncles, sketched out a national plan for 100 pages of Raptor content. Liz Sullivan, our photo editor, began setting aside pictures. We drew on our longstanding partnership with our former colleagues at Sportsnet.ca, who agreed to provide commentary, and team profiles assembled by their writers earlier in the year.

But we wanted the issue to have that Maclean’s-ian quality conveying the import of the moment. So, we began assigning our written pieces to our tried-and-true current affairs writers, with an eye to capturing the cultural meaning of the Raptors in a fast-growing, increasingly cosmopolitan market: Andray Domise was to write on the special bond between the team and a young fan-base comprised largely of new Canadians; Jason Markusoff, our Calgary-based correspondent, would chronicle the celebrations in ‘Jurassic Parks’ across the country (by astonishing luck, he happened that week to be travelling across Canada); Kyle Edwards would compile an oral history of Kawhi Leonard’s famous shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal; and Aaron Hutchins would write a grand, 14-page narrative of the team’s at times excruciating 25-year journey to victory.

By the time the Raptors took Game 3 (yes, their Game 2 loss put a scare into us), our production editor, Elizabeth Brandt, had a flatplan and schedule that was as brilliant as it was daunting. If the Raptors won, the magazine would go the St. Joseph presses in three tranches, the first set of 34 pages moving at 9 a.m. ET the morning after victory. Next would come a run at 3 p.m., followed by the last third of the book at 9 p.m. This meant the issue would have to be largely complete before the Larry O’Brien trophy was awarded. What remained to be written and edited would have to be done fast—light-speed fast.

We did it. In one of our biggest gambles, we sent Aaron to Oakland, Calif. to be on hand for the big win. From Oracle Arena and his hotel room, he wrote through that night, putting the finishing touches on his long read at 3 p.m. ET on June 14, then rising from his slumber to handle my edits. A team of editors, designers and copy editors worked through the day as Elizabeth kept the pages flowing to the SJC plant in Concord. Our executive editor and art director Stephen Gregory pored over the tiny details that make a cover just right.

Our chosen image: a jubilant Leonard seizing Kyle Lowry as the latter holds the trophy, Lowry’s young son looking on. Talent, hard work and wonder, all in a single frame. It felt about right.

Charlie Gillis is the Managing Editor (National) at Maclean’s and served as the editor of the Raptors commemorative edition. The issue is on newsstands now and available for order here