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The Raptors built the bond between these brothers. But one of them isn’t here to see the team reach its biggest milestone

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The Raptors built the bond between these brothers. But one of them isn’t here to see the team reach its biggest milestone


The Raptors built the bond between these brothers. But one of them isn’t here to see the team reach its biggest milestone | The Star

The Ahmed brothers (Talha, left, Zayr, middle, and Moaz) at a Raptors game in 2008. Moaz Ahmed died in 2013 after battling liver disease.

When the Raptors played, the fighting stopped.

That’s how it worked in the Ahmed household in Mississauga, where brothers Moaz, Talha and Zayr Ahmed had been diehard fans since moving to Canada from Kuwait in 1995, the same year Toronto’s team was created.

Any brotherly arguments were put on hold as the three watched every game together as kids, and as adults stayed connected and chatted about the team no matter which city each brother was in.

Now, watching the Raptors come just one win away from an NBA championship, the feeling is bittersweet; Moaz is no longer with them.

“Seeing them in the Finals, he’d be thrilled. It’s something he never got to experience,” said 27-year-old Zayr, of his brother who died in 2013 at age 29 after battling liver disease for years.

“He was a loyal supporter no matter how bad things got, and they got bad,” Zayr said. “When we used to go to the games he was screaming, ‘Let’s go Raptors!’ when they went on runs, and let the refs hear it when they made a bad call.”

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Talha, 33, said the game “was just something that pulled us together. It didn’t matter if the team was terrible or the team was good. It was just our way of bonding.”

It was also a lot more affordable to get into the Raptors. “Growing up, the Maple Leafs were good but it was expensive to go to a game or even play the game,” Talha said. With the Raptors, they got to support a team right from its start and watch it now get close to making history.

But back when Moaz was a fan, the Raptors mostly “sucked,” aside from the Vince Carter and Chris Bosh eras, when they made it to the playoffs.

“When the Raptors made that first playoff run with Bosh, it was amazing to see how excited (Moaz) was. He wanted to beat Carter and the Nets bad because he resented Vince for when he wanted out like everyone else, because (Moaz) was his biggest supporter when he was here,” Zayr said.

But his favourite Raptors memory with Moaz is from just a regular season game where the Raptors showed their knack for being able to turn a game around completely.

It was 2007 in Washington and the Raptors were trailing by three points. With just seconds remaining, the Wizards’ Michael Ruffin threw up the ball, trying to run out the clock. But the Raptors’ Morris Peterson caught it and threw an almost miraculous buzzer-beating three-pointer, sending the teams into overtime in a game the Raptors then won.

“That was just one of those moments you always remember watching,” Zayr said. “It was just a random regular season game but we were screaming at the top of our lungs.”

He and Talha felt the same triumph this season watching Kawhi Leonard’s now viral buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers, sending the Raptors to the Eastern Conference final.

Zayr and Talha Ahmed were among those rooting on the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena for Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Their brother, Moaz, a fellow diehard Raptors fan since they moved to Canada from Kuwait in 1995, died in 2013 at age 29 after battling liver disease."Seeing them in the Finals, he'd be thrilled," Zayr, 27, said. "It's something he never got to experience."

They even got to go to Game 1 of the NBA Finals and watch the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Scotiabank Arena. It was one of so many moments this playoff season in which the two missed their eldest brother the most.

“He was a social butterfly. Every time he walked into a room he was instantly the life of the party,” Zayr said. “The funniest, wittiest guy I knew. He always made everyone in the room laugh with his jokes. He was also very caring and selfless.”

Two years after Moaz’s death, DeMarre Carroll joined the Raptors and spoke openly about his own struggles with liver disease. Carroll, who was traded in 2017, has a non-profit called the Carroll Family Foundation, which aims to educate and raise money towards prevention, diagnostic services and treatments for youth suffering from liver disease or disorders.

Talha was moved and knew he had to reach out. He tried repeatedly tweeting at Carroll to no avail at first.

“I messaged him again just randomly one day, just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to try one more time,’ ” Talha said. “He literally responded a few seconds later and said, “Sorry, I’ve just been busy, tell me more about your brother.’ ”

Carroll told him to approach his wife, Iesha Carroll, at halftime during the next Toronto game Talha and Zayr were attending. There, the three arranged to meet again the next day, launching Talha’s involvement with the foundation, which he now serves as a board member — one way to keep his brother’s legacy alive.

The other is to live up to the commitment the three brothers made when Moaz was still here: watch the Raptors play on the road at all 29 NBA arenas. Now that they’re financially stable adults, Talha, who is a project manager, and Zayr, a medical student in Florida, started working towards the goal last year and have so far crossed three U.S. arenas off their bucket list.

Moaz Ahmed at the last Raptors game he attended, the 2013 home opener.

But it hasn’t been easy to enjoy the Raptors without their brother.

Moaz died on Dec. 9, 2013, right when the team was starting to turn around. In the weeks afterwards, Zayr and Talha couldn’t bring themselves to turn on the TV and watch any games.

One January 2014 night, their parents came to put the hiatus to an end.

“Our dad actually passed us the remote and said, ‘You guys gotta watch the game,’ ” Zayr said. “They wanted us to watch the Raptors because that’s what we had with him.”

It was a good night to tune in. Raptor Patrick Patterson stole Brooklyn Nets player Deron Williams’ inbounds pass to make a shot with six seconds left, scoring Toronto a 104-103 victory.

“That season and everything that’s happened afterwards with the Raptors, it’s almost as if Moaz is watching the games with us,” Zayr said. “Some people might say it’s just a game. But to us and our family it’s more than that because of what it represents and how we’re able to hold on to the memory of him.”

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“That was just one of those moments you always remember watching,” Zayr said. “It was just a random regular season game but we were screaming at the top of our lungs.”

He and Talha felt the same triumph this season watching Kawhi Leonard’s now viral buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers, sending the Raptors to the Eastern Conference final.

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They even got to go to Game 1 of the NBA Finals and watch the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Scotiabank Arena. It was one of so many moments this playoff season in which the two missed their eldest brother the most.

“He was a social butterfly. Every time he walked into a room he was instantly the life of the party,” Zayr said. “The funniest, wittiest guy I knew. He always made everyone in the room laugh with his jokes. He was also very caring and selfless.”

Two years after Moaz’s death, DeMarre Carroll joined the Raptors and spoke openly about his own struggles with liver disease. Carroll, who was traded in 2017, has a non-profit called the Carroll Family Foundation, which aims to educate and raise money towards prevention, diagnostic services and treatments for youth suffering from liver disease or disorders.

Talha was moved and knew he had to reach out. He tried repeatedly tweeting at Carroll to no avail at first.

“I messaged him again just randomly one day, just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to try one more time,’ ” Talha said. “He literally responded a few seconds later and said, “Sorry, I’ve just been busy, tell me more about your brother.’ ”

Carroll told him to approach his wife, Iesha Carroll, at halftime during the next Toronto game Talha and Zayr were attending. There, the three arranged to meet again the next day, launching Talha’s involvement with the foundation, which he now serves as a board member — one way to keep his brother’s legacy alive.

The other is to live up to the commitment the three brothers made when Moaz was still here: watch the Raptors play on the road at all 29 NBA arenas. Now that they’re financially stable adults, Talha, who is a project manager, and Zayr, a medical student in Florida, started working towards the goal last year and have so far crossed three U.S. arenas off their bucket list.

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But it hasn’t been easy to enjoy the Raptors without their brother.

Moaz died on Dec. 9, 2013, right when the team was starting to turn around. In the weeks afterwards, Zayr and Talha couldn’t bring themselves to turn on the TV and watch any games.

One January 2014 night, their parents came to put the hiatus to an end.

“Our dad actually passed us the remote and said, ‘You guys gotta watch the game,’ ” Zayr said. “They wanted us to watch the Raptors because that’s what we had with him.”

It was a good night to tune in. Raptor Patrick Patterson stole Brooklyn Nets player Deron Williams’ inbounds pass to make a shot with six seconds left, scoring Toronto a 104-103 victory.

“That season and everything that’s happened afterwards with the Raptors, it’s almost as if Moaz is watching the games with us,” Zayr said. “Some people might say it’s just a game. But to us and our family it’s more than that because of what it represents and how we’re able to hold on to the memory of him.”

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