June 13th Approximately 11:30 pm
I am sitting in my room watching the last 0.9 seconds on the clock which seemed like an eternity for the inevitable to happen. Draymond Green in pure Michigander style dumbfoundedly attempts to call a time out when the team didn’t have one. A technical foul was called. Kawhi Leonard sinks the 2 baskets with the Raptors up by 4. Stephen Curry heaves the ball 3/4 up the court. Kyle Lowry grabs it. Game over. The Raptors are NBA Champions. #Rapsin6ix.
While the mainstream media bantered about the last major championship, and since Toronto does not own an NFL franchise, everyone seems to forget that Toronto FC won on a frigid December night in 2017. But fine. 1993 was the last time the City won a major title. It was a long distant memory of Joe Carter’s walk off home run to win their second World Series title.
The City is euphoric. I’ve always said that if the Leafs would win the Stanley Cup, there would be cars lined up from Steeles to the Lake. You know what? It happened for the Raptors. But to think who owns a car nowadays in the City proper. Guaranteed those car owners were from the 905. Those car owners are black and brown. Pushed out of the Toronto’s boundaries because it is unaffordable for families to live. But those are the Raptors fans. From the inner suburbs of Scarborough to Mississauga to the many other “Jurassic Parks” that lined the Greater Golden Horseshoe and beyond.
There they were. The congregation of Raptors fans who watched in bars. At Jurassic Park in Maple Leaf Square. Flowing into the streets. Climbing flag poles. Jumping on cars. Honking horns all the way up to Yonge-Dundas Square. Others took the subway. On Instagram, you found random people doing belly flops on the subway floor. Gross! At every station, people would be chanting “Let’s Go Raptors”. Canadians across the country cried, screamed, hugged.
The Raptors made up of predominantly Americans but more than a handful of international flavour, which comprises of what Toronto and Canada is – diverse and inclusive. I will argue that our boardrooms and executive leadership do not reflect that. Not today! It was the exception because our true colours stood out.
We all had to wait a full weekend for the parade and rally to happen on Monday.
June 17th. The Day has arrived.
It was predicted 2 million would line the parade route and Nathan Phillips Square. I left just the house just after 7:30 to catch the 8:05 train departing Mount Pleasant. Non-Presto card users, possibly those who don’t even use transit on a daily basis were lined up at the ticket vending machine. People at the front of the train were probably bound for the Square. I decided to get on the back of the train and catch the parade at Front and York outside of Metrolinx’s office.
I arrived just before 9 am to throngs of people, young and old decked out in Raptors gear waiting for the double decker buses and floats to arrive. The story is just beginning. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Revellers are chanting “Let’s Go Raptors” and “We the North”. People moved from the West side of York Street to the middle of the street. It got to the point it was utter chaos. You could see from Lakeshore to Front Street. Swarms of people were invading the whole street. Kids like the “tactical urbanists” they were decorating the street with chalk. Still restlessness began to set in. It was getting hot, but no one left. We were all sticking it out. It was noon and still no floats and buses in sight.
Police and auxiliary officers gave up long ago to control the crowd. They gave Barriers were extended on my side of the street. Traffic was closed off hours before. Then just after one, cop cars and motorcycles and TTC buses were there to separate the crowd so the parade could go through. They were slowly moving into the crowd to push them to the side. It took nearly an hour before the Toronto Fire bagpipes arrived at York and Front and Nav Bhatia got out of his golf cart to high-five the crowd.
The kaleidoscope of colours. Fandemonium finally set in. Heat and exhaustion took over. One thing I learned from my Trinidadian mother that you always come prepared for games and special events. Just like the times we would sneak food into the General Admission section at Exhibition Stadium or go to the park or beach as a family, we would always have food. I ate breakfast and brought just enough food and water to last me. Others didn’t and you could tell they were restless. But it didn’t stop them from having a good time.
Everyone gathered to see Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, an obviously inebriated Marc Gasol, the fro-hawked Danny Green and the quiet leader and MVP Kawhi Leonard let loose. The revelerie lasted about 30 to 45 minutes. It took another hour for the parade to arrive at Nathan Phillips Square. I chose not to go as originally planned, but I elected to watch highlights of it once I arrived home. I’m glad I didn’t go. Even if I didn’t get the opportunity to boo Premier Doug Ford. Those boos translated to a Cabinet shuffle on Thursday.
I still enjoyed myself despite not meeting up with any of my friends. They too enjoyed themselves. Over text and social media we exchanged stories.
Diversity was live and in full effect that day. Basketball brought a nation together. After all it was invented by a Canadian in the United States. For once, we didn’t talk about hockey, supposedly Canada’s sporting love affair. A nation filled with new immigrants descending from South and East Asia and Africa and the 2nd and 3rd generations from the West Indies. Vince Carter and Steve Nash started the first wave of the new generation of Canadian basketball players. It is the most affordable sport to play next to soccer.
Six Canadians were drafted in the NBA and a few will have tryouts in the Summer League. Now with the NBA title, basketball will thrive in communities all across Canada.
In a city where NIMBYs block proposals for increased density because it disrupts “community character” while it refuses to update the outdated zoning policies that reflect the post -war suburbs, no one talked the continuous ails and tensions of the metropolis that day. It was a day to celebrate. For once, the city, region, province and country could set aside its differences and boast as one.
Now only if our politicians, developers and residents can be this harmonious, and stop bickering about transit and affordable housing. And if this many people can skip work and school for one day, can we have this many people show up on October 21st?
Cities contain a microcosm of talent and culture. It is the diversity of lived experiences that make them great. The NBA title has proven that. It took a UK born Nigerian man in Masai Ujiri to bring it out of Toronto and Canada.
WE THE NORTH! Better yet, WE THE FREAKIN NORTH!