Raptors fans in downtown Toronto went wild Thursday night as the Raptors won their first-ever NBA championship – the culmination of a long-held dream for sports fans in the city.
“We have been waiting 24 years for this. We’re going to celebrate all night,” one fan told CP24.
The win came after a nail-biting neck-and-neck game that saw the Raptors pull ahead in the final moments to edge out a 114-110 win over the Golden State Warriors, the defending champions.
Fans viewing the game on large monitors at Jurassic Park outside Scotiabank Arena downtown exploded into cheers as the final score came in.
Thousands of fans spilled out into the streets from bars and viewing parties to celebrate, waving flags and banners and cheering what is arguably the city’s biggest major sports win since the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993.
“It’s unbelievable. We deserve this. We’ve waited so long for this,” one cheering fan told CP24.
“I’ve been a fan since 1995. I love the Raptors. It’s Toronto’s team, it’s Canada’s team,” another fan said.
Another fan said he had been waiting his “whole life” to see the team win a championship.
[IN PHOTOS: Toronto reacts as Raptors win NBA Finals]
At Yonge-Dundas Square, large crowds cheered and set off fireworks.
The festivities mark the beginning of what will be likely be a longer celebration in the city. According to a notice sent out to some downtown residents by Toronto police, a victory parade for the Raptors will be held Monday, beginning at Exhibition Place and ending at Nathan Phillips Square.
Toronto police have said for several weeks that they had crowd control plans in place for the city. But while most fans celebrated with cheers and chants, some incidents of unruly behavior were reported.
CP24 cameras caught crowds jumping on and damaging a vehicle at Front and York streets. A police vehicle was also spotted nearby with its windshield smashed in. Unruly crowds also smashed the window of a CP24 vehicle at Front Street and University Avenue as a crew reported on the celebrations.
Shortly after 1 a.m., at least a dozen officers set up a barricade with bicycles to contain a crowd in the York Street tunnel as a loud crowd chanted and danced a damaged cruiser.
Cameras also caught some people climbing on light standards and lighting flares around downtown.
In a tweet, Toronto police congratulated the Raptors on the win, but urged revelers to celebrate respectfully.
“Fans, be safe and celebrate responsibly,” the tweet read. “Police officers are present to help ensure public safety tonight. Please respect officials and police direction and celebrate safely tonight.
Tailgate party was close call due to weather
Earlier in the evening it was touch-and-go as to whether the party at Maple Leaf Square (dubbed Jurassic Park) would happen due to stormy weather. But a couple of hours before game time, the storms subsided and MLSE said the outdoor tailgate party would go ahead as planned, with Scotiabank Arena available as a backup plan in case of thunderstorms.
Early Thursday, Raptors fans braved the rain to line up for Jurassic Park for the second time this week, but at 4 p.m. staff with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment began handing those in line wristbands and advising them to come back at 6 p.m. due to the likelihood of thunder and lightning.
“It is beyond comprehension that people are down here huddled under these makeshift tents for hours on end,” Mayor John Tory said after visiting the lineup and taking some pictures with fans on Thursday morning. “It is cold, it is rainy, it has been such a terrible spring but they (fans) have been here week after week, day after day. They really are the greatest fans in sports.”
The crowds at Jurassic Park have grown throughout the Raptors playoff run and are now routinely filling overflow areas that have been set up all along Bremner Boulevard.
For that reason, fans have begun lining up increasingly early to get a spot inside the main viewing area just outside the entrance to Scotiabank Arena.
‘Arrangements in place’ to manage crowds
Tory said that there have been “constant conference calls” throughout the NBA Finals with officials from the TTC, the Toronto Police Service and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment working together to ensure fans are kept safe.
He said that there are “arrangements in place” for managing crowds, but he did not provide any specific details.
He also refused to comment on plans for the victory parade, but conceded that there is a “file” that exists.
“I have said before I don’t want to be the one to jinx the team but there is a file that contains records of past celebrations we have had in the city. We have had Stanley Cup parades, believe it or not, World Series championship parades, TFC championships and Grey Cup parades. We will dust that file off at the appropriate time and find a way to celebrate the achievements of this team but we will leave that until the achievements are in place.”
The following road closures are in place tonight:
The intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets was shut down during the game to allow for pedestrian overflow.
• Bremner Boulevard between Lake Shore Boulevard West and York Street from 7 a.m. on Thursday, until 2 a.m. on Friday
• York Street between Lake Shore Boulevard West and Front Street West and Bremner Boulevard between Lower Simcoe Street and York Street from 9 a.m. on Thursday until 2 a.m. on Friday
• Bremner Boulevard between Lower Simcoe Street and Rees Street and Lower Simcoe Street between Lake Shore Boulevard West and Front Street West from noon on Thursday until 2 a.m. on Friday
• York-Bay-Yonge exit ramps (eastbound and westbound) on the Gardiner Expressway from 10 p.m. on Thursday until 4 a.m. on Friday
Extra transit service in effect
Transit services have also made some adjustments to accommodate the massive crowds downtown.
The TTC said subway service will be extended by about half an hour, with the last northbound trains leaving Union Station at 2:25 a.m.
Additional subway trains are running, and there is extra staff to manage crowding and help direct customers.
In anticipation of large crowds and significant congestion, the TTC decided to suspend streetcar and bus service in an area bounded by Bathurst Street to the west, Church Street to the east, College Street to the north and Lake Shore Boulevard to the south. Streetcars and buses began short turning at those intersection at the end of the third quarter.
The Union Station go bus terminal closed at around 9 p.m. due to the anticipated crowds in the area.
As a result, all trips on routes 61, 65 and 71 will begin and end at Highway 407 Station. Trips on routes 21 and 31 will begin and end at Port Credit GO Station.
“To get some predictability for everybody travelling and to make it safer, it is just easier to make the decision to close it (the bus terminal) and connect people with our trains,” Metrolinx Insp. Steve Harvey told CP24. “We can move a lot more people out quicker with our trains and subways.”