TORONTO – Fans poured onto the streets and honked horns in Toronto and celebrated throughout Canada after the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA championship on Thursday night.
“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.
Thousands of spectators who jammed Jurassic Park, the fan zone outside the team’s empty downtown arena, to watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals on big screens screamed in gleeful pandemonium as the final buzzer sounded on the Raptors’ 114-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Rapper and Raptors 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.”
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.
“What a night! I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” said Elias Edraki, 35, also of Toronto.
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.
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.
“This is the best day of my life!” said John Cooke, 35, of Toronto.
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, Illinois, hometown to Raptors guard 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.
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 for an NBA team outside the U.S. A parade will be held on Monday.
“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, Ontario, 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.”
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.”
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