TORONTO — 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.
The crowd sang Queen’s “We Are the Champions” as they streamed into clogged streets. Some climbed poles and waved shirts, car horns blared in a triumphant cacophony.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” said Jocelyn Campbell, 23, of Toronto. “It’s magical.”
“And that’s how we do it in the North,” Prime Minister 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.
Renowned Toronto rapper and Raptor global ambassador Drake said the team played with heart.
“We did this off of love,” Drake said after the game. “We willed this into existence.”
While most of the massive crowds in Toronto were boisterous but well behaved, some damaged two police cruisers trapped on one street and a transit bus on another. There were no immediate reports of any injuries or arrests.
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 Rockford, 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,” Mayor Tom McNamara said.
In Oakland, Calif., where the Warriors hosted the Raptors, cheers erupted in Oracle Stadium as Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan 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 win by the Raptors marked the first NBA team outside the U.S. to go all the way. Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city will have “the best parade ever” but offered no details. Media reported it would be held Monday, but police did not confirm that.
The win was also the first for a Canadian team in one of the big four professional sports since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.
“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.”
Watch: Fans braved thunderstorms to watch Raptors. Story continues after video.
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 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