It's the human and fun side of our sports heroes

Canada unites in ‘Jurassic Park’ as Raptors hunt NBA title

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Thousands of passionate supporters will be roaring and dancing in “Jurassic Park” outside Scotiabank Arena during the NBA Finals while the Toronto Raptors hunt for Canada’s first NBA title.

The special atmosphere for devoted fans watching on a giant television screen on the west side of the arena has become a gathering place as Raptors backers from across Canada line up for six or seven hours just for the chance to watch games on TV with thousands of fellow supporters.

“These are the passionate fans,” said Jay Prateek, who lives in a condo in a nearby high-rise. “It’s crazy. It’s a lot of fun just because the atmosphere is so much fun. You have the chance to be part of it.

“People are coming from all over, from London and Hamilton and other cities. You can watch at a restaurant with a dozen people or so or you can be out here with hundreds of people.”

It’s a sea of red-clad people waiting to be thrilled by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry as they lead the Raptors in their first NBA Finals and looking to boo the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

People queue for hours — around the arena and through a tunnel to beyond the train station bringing people from all over to Toronto — just to make sure they have a place to stand in the area, usually a parking garage exit area with a few adjacent shops.

The Raptors call it tailgating, though it lacks autos or tailgates, but their slogan says it all — “Where The Loyal Get Loud.”

Once security opens the area, fans rush for the nearest spots to the big screen and the pre-game television booths constructed Wednesday, where shows will use the crowd as a backdrop for their analysis of events.

– Three blocks of thrills –
Those who don’t make zone one have a chance at zone two, which takes up the full block beyond the main staging area, or zone three, with the city closing another block further back to handle the masses looking cheer with their friends and neighbors.

“Usually you come in groups and yeah you will see poeple you know or old friends,” Prateek said. “Some people are planning to get here at 12 (noon) and the game is at 9. Nobody knows for sure. We’ve never made it this far.”

There are drink and hot dog vendors in the area to feed even the most carnivorous hungers and thirsts.

There was a line waiting Wednesday when the adjacent Real Sports souvenir shop opened — good luck getting any of the soldout “We The North” selections — and the next-door restaurant was packed ahead of a special event.

Greeters and sales clerks were happy to talk about the event atmosphere, offering an “It’s amazing” and “It’s incredible” before their managers told them they can’t give interviews.

But Canada’s first fan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tweets his support, saying: “History made! @Raptors, it’s time to bring that championship to Canada!”

– Gets crazier from here –
And the Raptors recognize how solid their support is when they see not only rap singer Drake at courtside but the devoted who couldn’t get tickets but showed up anyway, their celebration lasting all night when the Raptors advanced to the finals but not resulting in any arrests.

“What you saw the other night, it’s only going to get crazier from here,” Toronto’s Fred VanVleet said.

“It’s a city that’s very supportive,” Raptors Spanish center Marc Gasol said.

For Raptors president Masai Ujiri, it’s a special thrill to host the first NBA Finals games outside the United States and to show off their faithful fans while the world watches.

“Unbelievable fans, the support they have given us around the country,” said Ujiri, who is from Nigeria. “There’s so much excitement, passion, energy.

“It’s going to be crazy here for a few days because that’s the mentality of our fan base. We know it’s across the world. That’s something special about here. We can reach the world easy from Canada and we’re happy to be the global team that represents the NBA. It’s a really exciting time for us and the city.”