Eager Raptors fans donned ponchos, huddled under umbrellas and spontaneously burst into chants in downtown Toronto on Monday as they waited for a potentially championship-clinching game to tip off on the team’s home court.
Rain that fell on and off throughout the day didn’t dampen the spirits of those who waited to get into the Jurassic Park fan zone outside the arena where Canada’s sole NBA team will play the Golden State Warriors for Game 5 for the Finals.
Some had come from all over Toronto, others travelled from farther afield to be part of the excitement. The smell of marijuana wafted through the air as the line snaked halfway around the large arena, and predictions that the Raptors would take home the title could be heard all around.
“I’ve been a Raps fan since day one, young, young,” said 15-year-old Kamryn Thompsett. “Being in the NBA Finals is a big thing to me. If they win tonight, it’s party all night.”
Thompsett was in line with his friend, Zackery Spice. The two high schoolers had ditched classes, hopped on a bus from Uxbridge, Ont., with their moms and got in line around 6:30 a.m.
“We were up all night because we were scared we wouldn’t catch the bus,” said Spice, 15, who predicted the Raptors playing at home would give the team a boost. “We’re up 3-1, we could win.”
Shiva Baweja, who had come into the city from Mississauga, Ont., to get in line at 6 a.m., also predicted a big night for the Raptors.
“We’re going to win today,” said the 17-year-old. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while.”
Even those who had only recently become fans of the team were brimming with anticipation.
“I just hopped on the bandwagon after we won, what’s it called, the semi-finals?” said 22-year-old Jediael Tracey. “Now they mean everything to me.”
Versions of the Jurassic Park fan zone, where large screens broadcast the games, have sprung up in cities across the country.
Peel police Sgt. Joe Cardi said his force was expecting 25,000 fans to show up at Mississauga’s Jurassic Park West, the name currently being used for the city’s Celebration Square.
“We want everyone to have a good time, cheer on the team, and make it home safely,” Cardi said. “Go Raptors!”
In Montreal, the enthusiasm for Canada’s lone NBA franchise was enough to create the unthinkable: a major downtown street was closed off Monday night so fans could cheer on a team from Toronto.
Starting at 5 p.m., a section of Peel Street became a Montreal version of Jurassic Park for the first time, with a big screen in place to broadcast the game. It is the same stretch of street that was closed off last week for festivities connected with the Canadian Grand Prix.
Fans in Halifax were set to watch the game at block parties, while those in Regina can head to Mosaic Stadium, home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, to watch on the MaxTron screen. The screen is the largest in Canada, and — at more than 630 square metres — is even bigger than a standard NBA basketball court.
A special viewing party was also planned at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children for patients, their families and staff. The hospital is part of a charity challenge between Toronto Mayor John Tory and his Oakland, Calif., counterpart during the Raptors’ playoff run.
Tory and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf have been competing to see who can raise more money for a good cause, with Toronto fans asked to donate to the SickKids Foundation for the Hospital for Sick Children and Warriors fans challenged to give money to two food banks.
Other politicians have also been making wagers on the two teams.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a bet on the Finals with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, putting up bagels and beer against wine and chocolate.
Meanwhile, officials asked fans to be on their best behaviour while taking in the game, which begins at 9 p.m. ET.
In Toronto, city staff, police and the local transit agency said they were working with Raptors parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to deal with the thousands that are expected to turn out.
“We would like to remind the public to make decisions that do not impact their own safety or that of others when gathering to enjoy the game celebrations,” said police spokeswoman Katrina Arrogante.
Online ticket-resale site StubHub said Monday’s game was its all-time NBA leader in sales. The highest ticket sold on the site for Game 5 was listed at $27,500, it said.
“The demand is indicative of a fanbase waiting 24 years for a chance at the country’s first NBA Championship,” said Paul Nowosad, general manager of StubHub Canada. “Fans want to be there for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The Canadian Press