Five ways Toronto Raptors win is a big deal


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Media captionCelebrations erupted on the streets of Toronto after the historic win
It was a win in the sixth game for the Toronto Raptors, who took the National Basketball Association (NBA) series in a historic ending to this year’s finals. Not only is it the first time the NBA title comes to Toronto – to the ecstasy of hometown fans – but it’s the first time in history that any non-American team has taken home the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Raps stopped back-to-back defending champions the Golden State Warriors from clinching a third successive title, winning the best-of-seven series 4-2 in a nail-biting, down-to-the-last-split-second final game. Here are five ways Raptors fever spread – and how it could grow the game in Canada. 1. They had a nation behind themToronto fans have been fierce supporters of the team’s first finals run in the franchise’s 24-year history, packing the Scotiabank Arena to watch the team take on the Golden State Warriors, with thousands more watching each game outside for free on a massive screen at “Jurassic Park”. The excitement in the city was palpable on game nights, with bars packed to the rafters and fans pouring into the streets in celebration after Raptors victories. The team only reinforced their fan base with their finals run, with Canada’s largest city rallying behind their championship players. That excitement has spilled across the country, which has embraced the only Canadian NBA team as their own. “There’s no question that right now there is an entire nation behind the Raptors,” says John Campbell, head coach of the University of Toronto’s men’s basketball. “Certainly in my lifetime I’ve never experienced a sort of energy like this in our country [around basketball].””Jurassic Park” viewing parties were held in over 50 cities and towns across Canada on Thursday night, from Montreal to Saskatoon, Halifax, and Edmonton, turning the win into a national celebration. Arctic communities embraced the franchise’s “We the North” campaign, and the NBA says Canadians have been watching in record numbers.

2. A new Toronto Through early inaugural season lows to the highs of this finals run, Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia hasn’t missed a single home game. In turn, he has been embraced as a celebrity in his own right. Mr Bhatia, who came to Canada in the 1980s, celebrates the team’s multicultural fan base and sport’s ability to unite a city.

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Media captionOne of these guys is basketball’s biggest superfan
The Raptors management has filled its powerhouse roster with American and foreign-born players – Cameroonian Pascal Siakam; Marc Gasol from Spain; Serge Ibaka, originally from the Congo. “It’s been an amazing job by management not just to create a team that’s incredible on the court but really does reflect the diversity of the city,” says Mr Campbell. “There’re so many players who I think probably are excited to come to Toronto because of the atmosphere here and the fact that people from literally anywhere in the world can be comfortable in our city and feel at home.”

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Sneaker store Overdose Toronto has a mural of Kawhi Leonard on its facade – one of many in the city

3. Kawhi Leonard eats for freeThe level-headed, steadfast Raptors forward was instrumental to the success of a team whose entire roster has risen to the occasion of this historic championship run. On Thursday, he was named finals MVP for the second time in his career. The 6’7″ player’s versatility kept his rivals on edge, he’s a top scorer in the league, and fans won’t forget his buzzer-beater shot against 76ers that sent the Raptors to the eastern conference championship and on the way to the finals. Acquired from the San Antonio Spurs in 2018, Leonard has become so beloved by Toronto fans that restaurants in the city have jumped onto a “Ka-Wine & Dine” campaign, vowing to offer him free food for life if he doesn’t leave as a free agent this summer. A Californian, Leonard is rumoured to have been eyeing a move to an NBA franchise – the Clippers – in his home state. But Leonard – a deeply private sports star who is completely absent on social media, one who has variously been described as humble, selfless and understated – has been embraced by the city. Glen Grunwald, Canada Basketball president – and Raptors GM from 1997 to 2004 – says it’s been easy to jump on the Raptors bandwagon not just because of their success but because they’ve shown “Canadian humility in the approach to this run”.

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Drake reacts courtside

4. Trash talk, cheers and memesThe Raps have been praised for their sportmanship – but not all the fans got the memo. When Golden State star forward Kevin Durant went down in Game 5, some Toronto fans erupted into cheers. It soon became clear Durant’s injury was serious – a ruptured Achilles tendon that ended his finals run and landed him in a surgery suite. Some fans later launched a fundraising campaign for Durant’s charity to apologise for the “ugly side of fandom”. Golden State Warrior Steph Curry – whose father, Dell Curry, once played for the Raptors – and his family have also been heckled by Toronto fans. In Game 3, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was shoved by a spectator in the front row at Oracle Arena in Oakland – a fan who turned out to be an investor in the Golden State Warriors. The NBA promptly banned him from attending games for a year and slapped him with a $500,000 (£394,000) fine. Meanwhile Toronto-born superstar Drake, the team’s global ambassador and a favourite source for internet memes, made waves with his courtside antics.

The team’s name was inspired by the Spielberg 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park, which introduced a generation to the predatory velociraptor dinosaur.”Prehistoric” the Toronto Sun newspaper dubbed the win on its Friday morning front page, proclaiming that “dinosaurs rule the Earth again as Raptors win Game 6 thriller”.

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A scene from the 1993 film “Jurassic Park”

5. Building a legacy Many Canadians know that basketball was invented by one of their own – James Naismith in the late 1800s – but many won’t know there are now more Canadian players in the NBA than from any other country except the US, whose players dominate the league. There are currently 13 Canadians playing pro basketball and eight more likely to be drafted later this month, says Mr Grunwald.”We’re seeing an increase in the number and quality of players across Canada, both men and women,” he told the BBC.

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Toronto Raptors fans celebrated into the early hours

The NBA expansion to Canada in 1995 – with the Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies, who later moved to Memphis – was a “catalyst for development” for basketball in the country, where the sport is now one of the most popular among newcomers. Vince Carter and Damon Stoudamire were early star players for the upstart franchise. “There’s no question that the current players were a product of the excitement around the Raptors and around the NBA just being more accessible to Canadians,” Mr Campbell said. He predicts that a decade down the road young athletes inspired by this Raptors win will be playing basketball in the NBA and for Canada in the Olympics.

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