The basketball champions' rings with 640 diamonds

By Jessica Murphy
BBC News, Toronto

  • Published
Close ups of the record-breaking Toronto Raptors championship ringsImage source, Courtesy Baron Rings
Image caption,
The Toronto Raptors brought home the first Canadian NBA victory

It's a record-setting spoil of sports victory - a massive championship ring for the Toronto Raptors players, to mark their National Basketball Association title. And what says a crowning victory more than 640 diamonds?

Even superfan, Nav Bhatia, who has attended every single home game in 24 years, got one.

The biggest ring in NBA championship history depicts the Larry O'Brien trophy over the Canadian city's skyline - the iconic CN Tower included, and all accentuated with custom-cut baguette diamonds - along with the team jersey logo.

It has more diamonds than any other professional championship ring, the most diamond total carat weight, and the largest single diamond - all Canadian sourced to commemorate the historic Raptors' victory against the Golden State Warriors in June.

The Raptors received their rings in a ceremony earlier this week.

Peter Kanis, president of Baron Championship Rings, the jewellery maker behind the Raptors' new adornments, told the BBC the rings are "their trophy on their fingers" for the players.

"Every team wants to have a ring that stands out," he said.

The wearable memorabilia was designed with the help of point guard Kyle Lowry, franchise owners, and management.

Players were quick to show off their new accessory, including Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, who released his own version of the popular online "unboxing" videos to showcase his new sparkler.

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Superstar rapper Drake, the team's global ambassador, showed off his ring alongside his own second custom piece.

Earlier this year, the New England Patriots unveiled the largest Super Bowl ring ever made to celebrate the franchise's sixth Super Bowl title - a bauble deemed a "masterpiece perfectly fit for a champion".

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The 10-carat gold ring features the Patriots logo in a custom-cut, red and blue stone surround by 38 diamonds and an additional diamond in the logo's star.

"The logo rests atop six Lombardi trophies, intricately set with 123 diamonds, each accented with a marquise-cut diamond," a news release about the ring states. "The trophies on the ring top are surrounded by an additional 108 pave-set diamonds."

Another 76 diamonds adorn the edges of the ring along with 20 round blue sapphires.

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Celebrations erupted on the streets of Toronto after the historic win

It seems a prediction by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who floated the idea to USA Today in 2011 that championship rings "are done", was wrong.

So how did the time-honoured tradition of these bejewelled legacies start?

In baseball, it's believed the first championship rings were given out after the 1922 World Series when the New York Giants beat the Yankees 4-0.

The National Football League's Super Bowl ring began in concert with the annual championship contest, though the first example in 1967 only had a single diamond at its centre. It graced the fingers of the Green Bay Packers' players.

Image source, Getty Images
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Some of the NHL's New York Islanders Stanley Cup Championship rings

For the National Hockey League, championship rings date back to 1927, first awarded to the Ottawa Senators who beat the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup that year.

In the NBA, rings were first handed out in 1947.

Image source, Getty Images
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Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell looks at his championship ring

Richard Powers, with the University of Toronto and an expert in sports marketing, says championship rings are unique to the North American sports lexicon.

They symbolise two things: the team - rings are not given out to individual athletes but to all the players - and its collective achievement.

"The ring really signifies why we play the game," three-time Super Bowl winner Jerry Rice reportedly said.

They may be "gaudy" and "flashy" but advertise what will likely be the pinnacle of an athlete's pro-sports career - and carry a deep significance to the players, says Mr Powers.

"I've never seen a small championship ring," he notes.

The prized possessions - physical evidence of membership in an exclusive club of championship winners in professional sports - can also be an asset to players later in life and there is a healthy market for their resale.

Image source, Getty Images
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No rings in British football but Wayne Rooney received a special cap to mark his 100th England appearance

Basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made news earlier this year when he put up for auction four of his six championship rings - as well as some of his other sports memorabilia - for charity.

One of the rings was sold for almost $400,000 (£311,000).

Mr Kanis says that key to the design of the Raptors' ring was to highlight the "story points" of the victory - from the 74 diamonds on its face symbolising the number of games won in the season to the Toronto skyline in diamonds and gold.

There is no equivalent in the UK, says sport and culture columnist Matthew Syed, although some sports award caps to individuals for every international appearance. They have great sentimental value but, unlike the rings, they are quite worthless.

He says "the meaning of sport is bound up in stories" and the championship rings quite literally tell the tale of those sporting triumphs.

"Tradition and ritual is very important in sports," he says. "Artefacts become imbued with a deep amount of symbolic meaning."