Rawad Serhan still has the jersey that started it all.
He was 9 when his mother took him to Joggers — a long-gone sports apparel store in their hometown of London, Ont. — and bought him a Vince Carter jersey. It was the white, red and purple edition that the Toronto Raptors wore at home games in 2001.
He loved it at the time, but was still envious of the purple version his older brother took home. That was the one Carter wore during his legendary dunk contest victory in 2000.
“It was my first jersey ever, I still have it with me,” Serhan told the Star.
He owns both colours now, but the white one is more sentimental.
Eighteen years later, marked with ketchup stains from a hot dog spill at a picnic in 2003, that jersey lives on. Although the red blotches did leave it exempt from the Raptor fan’s viral video.
Serhan’s phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since he pulled 20 jerseys over his shoulders before peeling them off one at a time. He posted the minute-long video to Instagram a day after the Raptors clinched a berth in the NBA final Saturday. The idea to showcase his collection was inspired by another NBA fan’s viral video, who did the same thing to honour Dwyane Wade’s retirement at the end of the season.
“I told (my fiancée Maggie Assaff ), ‘hey what if we do what he did with Wade, but instead we do all the Raptors jerseys in a timeline, oldest to newest?’ ”
It wasn’t easy. The first two jerseys pulled off in the video were a youth XL and a youth large from when he was a child. Eighteen other shirts were packed tightly underneath them. By the end, he could hardly move.
“It was super uncomfortable,” Serhan said. “My fiancée actually had to put them on for me because I couldn’t. I could barely walk around to be honest. I was sweating and felt like my circulation was getting cut off. It was crazy.”
Crazy, but well worth it.
His vast collection of shirts from different eras struck a chord with basketball fans everywhere, amassing hundreds of thousands of views after being shared by major sports networks across social media.
“It’s been crazy the past couple of days. I’ve never experienced it before,” Serhan said. “At one point it got a little overwhelming, but I’m enjoying it.”
The collection of Raptors gear slowly began when he was younger, with the help of his parents. Bobbleheads, hats, figurines. When he got his first job at Tim Horton’s in Grade 9, he was finally able to support his habit. It was an expensive hobby, but Serhan found ways to make it work.
“I was the first guy in my high school to get a job and they tell you to save your money, but all my money started going to Raptors gear,” he said. “I’d buy anything. Cereal boxes, jerseys, hats.”
Serhan was always scouring Kijiji for deals. He picked up his old school 1998 Marcus Camby jersey for $20 after meeting a seller on Highway 401 while they were passing by London on their way to Windsor, a plan he made work on multiple occasions.
Every year, as players on the Raptors came and went, the collection grew. The signed Andrea Bargnani jersey came from a contest. The Rudy Gay one was his biggest regret. The Norman Powell purchase, like many others, was an impulse buy. He was at Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 playoffs and picked it up immediately after Powell’s impressive defensive effort against Paul George.
The next one will be Marc Gasol, who has “earned his respect” since joining the Raptors at the trade deadline.
The 27-year-old’s gut feeling helps him select a jersey to wear on game days. He’s superstitious, and during the playoffs, he chooses his outfit with the hope that in some way it can impact the game.
“I love Fred VanVleet and Norm Powell. When they were struggling a lot earlier (in the playoffs), I kind of figured if I start rocking those jerseys, maybe things can turn around,” he said. “I just show support to guys that are struggling at the time, because I want to be behind them no matter what.”
From Kawhi Leonard to Alvin Williams, every jersey — he estimates there are at least 40 of them — has a story.
“As a fan of the team, I’m always trying to keep up to date. When DeMar (DeRozan) was the best player on the team, I got a DeMar jersey,” he said. “I do a lot of impulse buys and that’s why sometimes my fiancée has to keep me in check.”
Serhan and his fiancée have been together for nine years. They watch the games together and created their viral video together. She’s gotten used to his obsession of the Raptors and his strong desire to keep adding to his collection — a feat that’s become more challenging as teams constantly add different-styled jerseys to their rotations.
Recently, they’ve run into a new obstacle. Serhan, his fiancée and his collection will be moving in together after their wedding in August.
“My soon-to-be wife isn’t too happy about it, but she understands,” he said with a chuckle. “Hopefully I’ll have a special room downstairs with everything and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
This weekend, the two Raptors fans will have their engagement photos taken in Toronto’s Distillery District.
“We’re going to wear the retro Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (jerseys). Because, you know, they kind of got a bromance going.”
Braydon Holmyard is a digital producer based in Toronto. He is also a Star contributor. Follow him on Twitter: @braydonholmyard