Saturday afternoon was a very special moment in Toronto Raptors history and it did not have to do with on court success. It did not have anything to do with Kyle Lowry finally playing well offensively or the Raptors taking a win at the American Airlines Arena to go up 2-1 in the series. This was about the fans in attendance and the fans in Jurassic Park going nuts.
For years, Toronto sports fans have been dying to show how crazy they can be and now they can. Toronto went from being a silent crowd, to one of the best sports scenes in North America. This did not happen overnight though.
It started in the year 2013. The Leafs, for the first time since 2003-2004 made the playoffs. For Toronto Maple Leafs fans this seemed like an eternity; however throughout the season, the building was so dead. This is usually blamed by the corporate crowd the Maple Leafs draw. To be honest, it is hard to disagree. Personally, I've heard stories of people being asked to calm down from fans in suits while they were in the stands cheering on the Leafs. The playoffs became a different story. MLSE had the idea of letting people watch from their Big Screen television at the front of the Air Canada Centre and thus the area formerly known as Maple Leafs’ Square was born.
Originally called Maple Leafs Square, it was a chance for fans who could not afford the massive ticket prices to come be part of the fanbase. Believe me, a Toronto Maple Leaf ticket will cost you an arm and a leg, so it was not surprising that thousands showed up. At first there was no basketball courts on the side or concession stands or free arcade games, it was strictly fans going to watch the game for free in lukewarm weather to cheer on the Leafs. In my opinion, this sparked the people inside to get into spirit and the ACC, as it is affectionately nicknamed, was rocking inside and outside. Of course the Leafs were never ones to satisfy and lost in a game 7 collapse to the Boston Bruins.
This was the start of something new but little did MLSE know how big this could turn into with the Raptors.
At the Start of the 2013-2014 season, the Raptors hired general manager Masai Ujiri. By accident, he created a good Toronto Raptors team that captured the imagination of a city by trading Rudy Gay. For the record, Raptors fans have always been passionate, just never proud because of the inability to retain the talent they develop.
The ACC was sold out for almost every raptors game during that run in 2013-2014. I will never forget the scene of seeing a 2013-2014 regular season game against the Orlando Magic, in which the stadium was full and it was literally the middle of the season. Or the time in the same regular season where the crowd was jeering Paul George all game long after he and John Salmons got into it.
Raptors fever was born.
However, this raptors fever got even hotter during the series with the Brooklyn Nets. This is when “We The North” vignettes, and a “**** Brooklyn” speech by Masai Ujiri was heard to Raptors faithful. What proceeded to happen is something that sent chills up my spine. Raptor Fans at the Air Canada Centre were so loud that the officials’ whistle were not heard. The Maple Leafs Square was filled to the point where outside parts of Toronto are full and were makeshift parts the square. Probably the most significant development was fans going into the Barclays Center and “Let’s go Raptors” chants were heard from the television set. Unfortunately the Raptors lost in 7 games to the Brooklyn Nets, however, Toronto sports fever did not stop there.
Since then, we have seen intense Toronto Blue Jays crowds for better or worse, sprinkles of Raptors Jerseys in enemy territory, Canadian Anthems being sung in American cities and Jurassic Park being filled in inclement weather. Most notably on Saturday Afternoon versus the heat. Despite the rain pouring on the North Side followers, thousands showed up just to watch a television screen. Even better, I could hear the Canadian anthem being sung by fans once again, even though Dwyane Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire decided shooting the basketball was much better than standing for the Canadian Anthem.
In many conditions the Toronto Sports scene wants to support their team and it is really a sight to see.