Note to readers: Maclean’s, in concert with Sportsnet writers, has produced a one-of-a-kind commemorative edition to celebrate the Raptors’—and Canada’s—first NBA championship title. This 100-page edition includes expert commentary, player profiles, fan interviews, series game rundowns, statistics, a sweeping history of the making of the team and, of course, iconic photographs. Look for it on newsstands this week.
The Toronto Raptors, a team whose magical playoff run sparked civic pride and raucous enthusiasm across Canada, sent fans into fits of unbridled joy on Thursday as they beat the reigning champ Golden State Warriors in a see-saw thriller to win the NBA championship.
Thousands of spectators who jammed Jurassic Park, the fan zone outside the team’s empty downtown arena, to watch Game 6 of the finals on big screens erupted in gleeful pandemonium as the final buzzer sounded.
“This is the best day of my life!” said John Cooke, 35, of Toronto, as the crowd sang the Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
“What a night! I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” said Elias Edraki, 35, also of Toronto.
“And that’s how we do it in the North,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted above a photo of him, two of his children and a dog watching the game.
Fans had gathered both indoors and at dozens of outdoor venues across the country to cheer on a team from a city many Canadians love to hate, their enthusiasm measured by unusually jammed bars.
“It’s difficult to put into words what this means to me, but my love for my son—and the Raptors—is off the charts,” said John Drzazga, 41, of Grimsby, Ont., whose 10-year-old Dustin roamed the zone in an inflatable dinosaur suit with a two-metre tail.
Dozens of cities across Ontario also held packed viewing events as did many other places from coast to coast, such as Halifax, which threw a massive outdoor block party.
Montreal shut down two city blocks to allow the improbable: people cheering a team from Toronto. Thousands braved the rain, forming a red tide, as organizers handing out “We the North” T-shirts.
One man was booed when he arrived in a blue Warriors T-shirt. But he ripped it off to reveal a Raptors jersey. The Warriors shirt was set on fire, burning until police doused it. Fans in Regina, as they did on Monday, watched on the massive screen at the Roughriders’ home stadium, while Edmontonians headed to the Expo Centre.
Even in Rickford, Ill., hometown to Raptors star Fred VanVleet, fans began a party at 6 p.m. at the newly created Jurassic Park RKFD to watch their local hero perform.
“Fred is an amazing basketball player and a genuinely good person both on and off the court,” Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said.
In Oakland, Calif., where the Warriors hosted the Raptors, cheers erupted in Oracle Stadium as Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLauchlan performed O Canada and Pat Monahan, of pop-rock act Train, sang The Star Spangled Banner before the tip-off.
Outside Christchurch, New Zealand, a Canadian flag hung on a suburban fence emblazoned, “Let’s Go Raptors” and “We the North.”
The championship win by the Raptors marked the first for a Canadian team in one of the big four professional sports since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series and the first NBA team outside the U.S. to go all the way.
TORONTO, CANADA, WE BROUGHT IT HOME! #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/6bI71mhEmK
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 14, 2019
“I remember coming here as an immigrant from Sri Lanka in 1989 and we watched Joe Carter hit that home run for the Jays,” said Subi Mahan, 37, of Pickering, Ont., who was with his two boys, Kiyan, 6, and Kishan, 9. “[So] to be here and share this with my boys is amazing. This is what love is.”
According to latest figures from payments firm Moneris, spending in bars nationally jumped 63 per on Monday from the same day a year ago, when the Raptors lost a Game 5 nail-biter by a single point. Edmonton saw the biggest increase with spending jumping a whopping 279 per cent. Spending in Toronto area bars almost doubled.
Love of the Raptors, with their best performance in their 24 seasons, prompted Toronto Mayor John Tory to don his now-signature black-and-gold blazer to visit the gathering crowd Thursday.
“It is beyond comprehension that people could be down here, huddled under these makeshift tents, for hours on end, more than a day, overnight,” Tory said. “It’s cold, it’s rainy, it’s been such a terrible spring, but they’ve been here week after week, day after day, and they’re the greatest fans in sports.”
—With files from Ugo Giguere in Montreal