If the Raptors make an NBA championship, will the Canadian team receive a welcome from the White House?


There is an American tradition in the White House elite: American professional sports teams, American champions and American medals can count on an invitation from the American president to praise their athletic achievements.

This brings us to the Toronto Raptors.

With a 3-2 advantage over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals scheduled for Thursday 6, Canada's only NBA team is in a victory (knock on hardwood!) To become the first non-US franchise to win a title.

It is close enough, it seems, to historians and experts on the presidential protocol and the White House to wonder: would the most famous residence in the United States retain the tradition by opening the doors to the NBA champions, even if the winners are a Canadian team?

In case you're wondering, we've already been here – with baseball. But despite George H.W. Bush welcomed the 1992 World Series winners, the Toronto Blue Jays, to the executive villa, the Jays triumph the following year did not lead to any visits during Bill Clinton's new administration.

The Golden State Warriors are represented with US President Barack Obama at a ceremony honoring the 2016 NBA champion team in the East Room of the White House. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY / Associated Press)

Although the White House generally honors the winners of the NHL Stanley Cup, as did US President Donald Trump by welcoming the Capitals of Washington last March, it is an open question if a Canadian hockey team would make the guest list. No Canadian NHL team won a Stanley Cup from the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

In 2017, players from the NBA Warriors champion snubbed an invitation from Trump, who later terminated their invitation. In 2018, Trump refused to invite the Warriors after claiming the title.

For its part, Canada would be a game to give a similar honor if the Raptors became champions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's press secretary, Matt Pascuzzo, wrote in an e-mail to CBC News: "All Canadians are behind the Toronto Raptors, and we are encouraging them at every step. The team has already made history, and we would absolutely be honored to invite them to Parliament ".

If the same hospitality could be extended by the Americans it is less certain. Six experts talked to CBC News about the likelihood that the Raptors – awaiting a victory – could receive invitations to visit the White House. Their answers, modified by length and clarity, are below.

Lea Berman, Social Secretary of the White House under George W. Bush:

I never came across a winning Canadian team when I was in the White House, but I'm sure the Bush administration would have invited them because they wouldn't want to leave them out. Not inviting them would have been rude, and they wanted to recognize our close friendship with Canada and recognize the successes of the American team members.

The best reason to invite the Raptors to the White House? It is a good retail policy – inclusive, friendly, a happy event. Why not do it?

Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation:

In 1992, US President George H.W. Bush accepted a Toronto Blue Jays shirt from Joe Carter, right, during a White House ceremony. (Ron Edmonds / Associated Press)

Look, I hate the fragmented relationship between the United States and Canada, and how it's going. But the NBA has almost become a celebration of North American culture. Canada is an extension of this.

In ancient times, you probably had a social secretary and a protocol leader who said that the normal thing to do was to invite them to the White House and say, "That's how we did it in the past." But my hypothesis is that Trump will decide if they are his fans or not and he will make a certain determination … My hypothesis is that it could be a political calculation due to the rift between him and Trudeau.

Jeremy Bernard, social secretary of the White House 2011-2015, under Barack Obama:

US President Donald Trump holds a New England Patriots jersey presented by coach Bill Belichick, left, and team owner Bob Kraft, right, during an event to honor the 2017 Super Bowl champions at the White House. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

To be honest, I don't know a foreign team – even with the Olympics, it was US athletes – to get an invitation. I don't know by chance. There were so many events we did.

I think the fact that the Raptors are part of the NBA, I think it would make it seem like there is nothing strange in the fact that they would have been invited to the White House. But there is no playbook for this.

Mike Purdy, presidential history:

In an alternative universe from the one in which we live, a president could, in the interest of international relations and honor a team of athletes, invite a foreign team to the White House. But Trump is unpredictable, and so he is guessed by anyone about which version of Trump will appear if the Raptors win.

Under any other presidency, the head of the protocol would be significantly involved in both the decision and the execution of this invitation. Trump seems to consider himself a public relations expert with one man, and it would be him to make such a decision whether to invite him and orchestrate the event at will.

Melinda Bates, director of the White House visitors' office during the Clinton administration:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, standing next to Obama, at the second game of the NBA finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena earlier this month. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY / Reuters)

An invitation to the champion teams is extended by the White House at the discretion of the president. And in a normal White House, with a normal president, such an invitation would have been kindly offered, even to a non-US team.

I think if the Warriors win, and if many of the players announce that they will not go if invited, as has already happened with other champion teams, the White House will announce that it has never even offered an invitation – so there!

Paris Dennard, staff member of the public liaison office under George W. Bush:

If the president makes an invitation to the Raptors, he would welcome those who want to come, because it is a great honor to be invited by the President of the United States and to be recognized on behalf of a grateful nation for your achievements. I hope that if there are members of the team who do not want to go, they would make it known only in private and they will not go.

When you look at the opportunity that Toronto has – prematurely speaking, of course – if the president invited them, he would invite the NBA champions. So just because the team is in Toronto, it doesn't matter. They are still part of the National Basketball Association. And traditionally, the invitation went to the NBA champions, as well as the NFL champion, the NCAA champion or the Major League Baseball champion.

The president has a wonderful working relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau. And if it's an invitation to the Raptors, you'd expect the Canadian ambassador to be there.


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