Club president Masai Ujiri said Wednesday the team was feeling the love and support of fans everywhere.
Canadian cities set up Jurassic Parks to watch Raptors playoff run
“There’s so much excitement, passion, energy, that we’re excited to get started,” he told reporters gathered at Scotiabank Arena, where the Raptors will host the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 Thursday night.
No viewing events for NBA Finals, Vancouver says
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Thousands of fans packed the “Jurassic Park” outdoor fan area for the deciding game of the Eastern Conference final on Saturday. Then, as the game ended, fans continued the celebration on downtown streets into the wee hours of the morning.
Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, in his first year with the team after being acquired from the San Antonio Spurs last summer, said the fan experience has been an eye-opener.
“Before you come, you know the crowd does come out when you play here on the road,” Leonard said. “Now I’m here for 41 games during the regular season. You get to live in the city, see how … guys and girls wearing hats, jerseys, how much support is really around the city.”
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"While we reviewed plans for a potential viewing event, we were not able to identify a location that was suitable and available for a series of up to seven games," the statement read.
“Now in the playoffs you get to see everybody outside the arena, see how excited they are for the game. See how much support is there too,” he said. “It’s been an exciting year … that’s what pretty much changed for me. Just being able to see it visually.”
The Stanley Cup tilt between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins stretched to seven games, and ended with Canucks fans rioting on the streets after the loss.
“It’s such an incredible city, sports city, whether you’re talking about us or the (Maple) Leafs or the Blue Jays or TFC, it’s a great sports city and there’s room for everybody,” he said.
“But it’s incredible how diverse it is and we’re going to continue to grow this and live this in this city … I know this city will win … There’s something about it here and sports, it comes around. Many cities will win, and Toronto will win too.”
Toronto FC won the Major League Soccer title in 2017, but the other three teams Ujiri mentioned are on championship droughts.
The Raptors have never won the NBA title, the Blue Jays’ last World Series win came in 1993 and the Maple Leafs’ most recent Stanley Cup parade was in 1967.
But many players on the Raptors have been to the finals in the past. Leonard and Danny Green got there with San Antonio in 2013 and 2014.
Being a bandwagon sports fan often gets a bad rap, as if watching sports requires years of misery as an entry fee. But what, exactly, is wrong with getting spontaneously excited about something new and expanding your horizons a little?
The city famously, and infamously, hosted outdoor viewing events for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
The country's lone NBA team is playing for a championship for the first time and it's got people tuning in. Since many of them are only recent basketball converts, there's a fair amount of catching up to do.
Fret not: this handy guide will transform any bandwagoner into a bona fide superfan like Nav Bhatia just in time for Game 1 in Toronto on Thursday. Barring that, it'll at least make any novice sound knowledgeable ahead of the team's showdown with the Golden State Warriors.
After dispatching the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs, Toronto endured a gruelling, back-and-forth series with the Philadelphia 76ers. The mood of fans throughout Game 7 ranged from quiet confidence to familiar fears that a once-promising playoff run would come crashing to a halt once again.
Then Kawhi Leonard hit a shot that sent diehards into a delirium and caught the attention of casual observers nationally.
The momentum from that buzzer-beating, physics-defying shot inspired murals in Toronto and raised fans' hopes, but then the team quickly fell into a 0-2 hole against the Milwaukee Bucks. The slide ended there, however, as Toronto got solid performances from all-star guard Kyle Lowry and bench players like Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell to rattle off four straight wins en route to a berth in the NBA Finals.
*Remember: as a fan, you should refer to anything the team does as something "we" have done, even if your last dunk was on a Fisher-Price net. For added effect, use the first-person plural "We, the North."
The first 23 years of the Raptors' existence was at times more laughable than laudable. Just ask any hardcore fan about Primož Brezec or Primo Pasta.
Star players like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh came and went, and for a while the biggest cheers came when Toronto scored 101 points to earn fans free pizza — win or lose. Even the team's playoff runs over the last five seasons ended in disappointment, including three times at the hands of NBA icon LeBron James.
That's why the Raptors made a pair of startling but shrewd moves this past off-season — firing head coach Dwane Casey in favour of assistant Nick Nurse and trading star guard DeMar DeRozan — in hopes of finally breaking through that plateau.
Dealing away a beloved player in DeRozan was a bittersweet moment for many devoted fans, especially given the bond he and Lowry formed over their years together. What the Raptors got in return (in addition to three-point specialist Danny Green) was Leonard, one of the NBA's premier two-way players — albeit one with some baggage.
Leonard, who was named NBA Finals MVP in 2014, missed the majority of last season due to injury and there was tension with his former team heading into the final year of his contract. With the trade made, the Raptors would get at least one year of his services filled with overtures for him to extend his stay in Toronto.
With a new coach and superstar in tow and a playoff-calibre foundation headlined by Lowry and promising forward Pascal Siakam, Toronto had a stellar regular season. Leonard's workload was managed by the coaching staff to ensure a healthy transition back into the game which, while frustrating at times, is so far paying dividends.
The Raptors have home-court advantage over the Golden State Warriors due to a better regular-season record, but these Warriors have indeed come out to play.
Golden State is eyeing its third consecutive title — and fourth in the last five years — and boasts an arsenal of all-stars. Guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are lethal from three-point range and forward Draymond Green couples offensive efficiency with defensive nastiness.
The Warriors also have versatile veteran and former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and an underrated but capable bench, but it's the two elite players who are currently injured who could impact the series one way or another.
Reigning back-to-back NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant was officially ruled out for Thursday's Game 1 with a calf injury, while tenacious centre DeMarcus Cousins continues to rehab his quad. The Warriors haven't appeared to lose a step without the duo, so don't expect any respite despite the high-profile injuries.
Feeling confident? Well-informed? Slightly terrified by the other team's high-wattage star power? Now you're just like any other Raptors fan.
Benjamin Blum is a senior writer with CBC News and has also worked with CBC Sports in the same capacity. He holds a master's of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax.
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