TORONTO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among 2 million fans cheering the Toronto Raptors on Monday as the basketball team paraded through the city to celebrate its first NBA championship, a win that has united Canada.
Five double-decker buses carrying the Raptors players, their families and musician Drake moved at a crawl due to the crowds, as players like Kawhi Leonard, who was named the most valuable player of NBA Finals, sprayed champagne on the fans.
The convoy was expected arrive at Nathan Phillips Square, which leads to Toronto’s city hall just after noon, but the massive crowd has delayed the program. Trudeau joined the celebrations at a stage in the square.
Canadians from coast to coast and all the way up to the Arctic have been celebrating since the Toronto Raptors captured their first National Basketball Association championship in a country that is traditionally known as the home of ice hockey.
The Raptors clinched the best-of-seven series in Oakland, California last Thursday in six games by beating the defending champion Golden State Warriors 114-110, sealing a nationwide love affair with basketball.
The Raptors victory is the first major professional sports championship for a Canada-based team since Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993. Toronto has been waiting for its beloved Maple Leafs to win the NHL championship since its last Stanley Cup victory in 1967.
“It’s the culmination of playing for 24 years. We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Raptors fan Chris Rogers.
Rogers, 34, who has rooted for the Raptors since they entered the league 1995, was dressed in a jersey of Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. He had been waiting since morning to watch the parade.
Rogers said his workplace was fully in support of him being out of the office as they believed the parade was important.
Monday’s victory parade started from the Exhibition Center, where the Canadian National Exhibition is held, and was to culminate at the Nathan Phillips Square.
Approximately 2 million fans stood by to celebrate and catch a glimpse of the winners, according to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Raptors.
Streets were closed off to accommodate the convoy carrying the Raptors, and three subway stations were also closed due to overcrowding on the street level. Enthusiastic fans festooned the streets of Toronto wearing red, purple, black and white.
A few fans climbed atop of bus stops and the arches of Nathan Phillips Square, but were asked by police to come down.
As crowds swelled along the streets, several people were put on stretchers due to dehydration. Rap dancers, security guards and the organizers were seen handing out water to the fans, who continued to throng streets leading up to the square.
The Snowbirds, an aerobatic flight demonstration team of the Royal Canadian Air Forces, soared over the skies of Toronto to join the festivities.
Toronto Mayor John Tory proclaimed June 17, 2019, as “We The North” day to mark the occasion, borrowing the slogan used by the Raptors.
“This championship is the culmination of years of patience, support, devotion and belief. Toronto has proven that it is a basketball city and that the game thrives in The North,” Tory said in a statement.
Reporting by Tyler Choi; Additional reporting by Canice Leung; Editing by Denny Thomas, Bill Berkrot and Lisa Shumaker