TORONTO — Eager basketball fans donned ponchos, huddled under umbrellas and spontaneously burst into chants in downtown Toronto on Monday, hours ahead of the Raptors’ potentially championship-clinching game on home court.
By mid-morning, more than 1,000 people had already gathered in the pouring rain to get into the Jurassic Park fan zone outside the arena where the Raptors will take on the Golden State Warriors for Game 5 of the NBA 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. Predictions that the Raptors would win the game and 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,” Spice, 15, said.
Even those who had only recently become fans of the Canadian basketball team were brimming with anticipation.
Jediael Tracey, 22, took transit downtown from the city’s north end, getting in line shortly after 8 a.m.
“I just hopped on the bandwagon after we won, what’s it called, the semi-finals?” Tracey said. “Now they mean everything to me.”
Adding to the noise Monday night will be the sound of nine Canadian Forces Snowbirds jets that will blow past the arena in formation after 8 p.m.
Officials have asked fans to be on their best behaviour as the city prepares for fans to flood the downtown core for the game, which begins at 9 p.m. ET.
City staff, Toronto Police and the Toronto Transit Commission are working in tandem with Raptors parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to deal with the crowds.
“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,” spokeswoman Katrina Arrogante said in an email.
The excitement has spread far beyond Toronto, with outdoor viewing spaces being forced to expand as Raptors fever spreads.
Peel police Sgt. Joe Cardi said they are planning for 25,000 fans to show up to 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!”
Fans in Halifax can 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 at the venue is the largest in Canada, and — at more than 630 square metres — is even bigger than a standard NBA basketball court.
Back in the Raptors’ home city, MLSE, is amping up its usual outdoor viewing party by planning multiple giveaways and setting up additional screens in Jurassic Park.