The Raptors’ NBA championship win last week marked the first time a Canadian team has won one of the big four professional sports championships since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian sports fans have changed since the Blue Jays’ World Series wins

TORONTO — After more than a quarter century since one of the country’s major pro sports teams took home a championship, Canadian sports fans will finally be able to celebrate on Monday with a parade and rally for the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors’ historic NBA championship win last week marked the first time a Canadian team has won one of the big four professional sports championships since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

The parade will see the team travel the downtown route in open-air, double-decker buses, with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy beside them. It will culminate with a rally at Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto City Hall.

The last time the city held such a momentous sports celebration was for the Jays in ‘93. That parade saw fans climbing trees and statues on Toronto’s streets to get a look at their sports idols. Police took baseballs from fans to get them signed by team members as they passed. Thousands then packed the SkyDome, now known as the Rogers Centre, for a rally.

The Jays’ celebrations were also attended by then-Ontario premier Bob Rae, who wore a Blue Jays T-shirt and flashed a sign to the SkyDome crowd that read: ”No speech today — Hooray for the Jays.”

The Raptors celebrations will see current Premier Doug Ford watching from the sidelines. He will not march because ”the parade is about the players and, more importantly, the fans,” according to Ford’s press secretary.

Bruce Kidd, a kinesiology and physical education professor at the University of Toronto who also specializes in Canadian sports history, said Raptors fandom has many similarities and differences to the Jays fandom of the early 90s.

Kidd said the Jays and Raptors are Toronto teams, but the entire country rallies behind them in a “religious-like” way where people from all over come together. He also recalls walking up Toronto’s Yonge Street with fans after the team won the World Series, in much the same way fans celebrated the Raptors’ victory on Thursday.

But Kidd said what has changed years later is that Canadian sports fans have become much more diverse, and the Raptors are much more representative of that population.

“The Raptors are representative of what Canada is and what’s it’s becoming,” said Kidd.

Kidd said the Jays also didn’t have a unifying and inclusive slogan like ”We the North.”

Kidd also believes the “pan-Canadian” fandom has intensified because of social media, since fans have more ways to interact and share the historic moment together.

Cheri Bradish, a Ryerson University professor specializing in sports marketing, said social media has given fans a closer bond to their favourite sports teams, which made the Raptors’ win even more special — even though the final game was played in Oakland, Calif.

The fact that the Raptors won outside of Toronto “democratized” the moment, Bradish said, noting that Canadians were all watching online and following the players’ social media.

“Instead of the exclusivity of people paying thousands of dollars for tickets to be in the stadium in Toronto and the diehard fans outside, Canadians got to experience the win in the same way,” she said. “We got to see the champagne.”

Monday’s parade will give Raptors fans another chance to come together for their team, and some have already taken the day off work to ensure their spot.

Diana Macecevic of Toronto said she asked her boss for the day off well in advance so she could attend the celebrations, and she said her boss was glad to let her go.

The 31-year-old, who works at TD Canada Trust, said the celebrations will be extra special for her as an all-around sports fan, because she remembers celebrating the Jays’ victory when she was a kid.

“This is a really exciting moment for Canada and the Raptors. They worked really hard for this,” she said. “I’ve been a Raptors fan since I was a kid, and to see this accomplishment and to be a part of the celebrations is really special.”

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