Maybe it was the sunny weather, but Toronto Raptors fans attending the pre-party for the basketball team’s first playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday were a decidedly optimistic bunch.
Thousands came out to watch the game live on a large screen outside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre at 12:30 p.m. and celebrate the end of a five-year playoff drought. The Raptors last made the playoffs in 2007-08.
The pre-party kicked off in Maple Leaf Square at 10:30 a.m. but people were lined up more than an hour before, said Josh Jueols, 18, holding a large Raptors blanket with his friend Jermaine Powel, 20.
Mr. Jueols thinks the Raptors had “the skill level” in past seasons, but not the chemistry he thinks they have now.
“Toronto’s going all the way this year,” he said.
The boisterous crowd and loud music didn’t deter George Jakji from coming out with his seven-year-old twins, whom he described as “diehard fans.”
He said Mathew and Andrew, both sporting Raptors jerseys, were supposed to go to hockey this morning but wanted to come here instead.
With his father’s encouragement, Andrew said wasn’t surprised to see the Raptors in the playoffs. “They did really good [this season].”
While many fans in the thick swarm of people claimed to be Raptors fans through thick and thin, Shyan Van Heer admitted his support wavers from time to time. “It’s a love-hate relationship,” said the 18-year-old with a grin.
But he thinks home court advantage will bring in Saturday’s win.
“We’ve got this, we’re dinosaurs,” his friend piped in.
In another corner of the crowd, Mark Walker said he was so revved up for Saturday’s game he couldn’t sleep the night before.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. He’s thinking about making the weekend trip down to New York for games three and four.
An hour before the tip-off, the line to get into the party still snaked around Air Canada Centre almost one full block.
Gabriel Badejo, 23, and Joel Jeyaraj, 22, were waiting in line and didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s pretty dope out here,” said Mr. Bandejo. He’s hopes the hype around the Raptors’ success will show the rest of the world how much Canada loves basketball.
The Murphy family, traditionally hockey-lovers, were watching the party from just outside the fence in Maple Leave Square. Jennifer Murphy said they got caught up in the basketball hype this year and went to a couple of Raptors’ games for the first time.
“There are a lot of diehard (Raptors) fans at work and it’s infectious”, said Ms. Murphy, who was with her husband Stuart and son Jack. But she still wishes her favourite hockey team made the playoffs.
“Too bad the Leafs couldn’t be joining them,” she said with a shrug.
Organizers were expecting 5,000 people at Saturday’s event.
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