Toronto, let’s face it, can be a pretty cold town. A town where you will be taken for a lunatic if you smile at someone on the street. A town that (as was once said of British prime minister John Major) wears its shirt tucked into its underwear. A reticent, undemonstrative, standoffish kind of place. Despite its transformation in recent decades into a vibrant multicultural metropolis, the stern outlook of its colonial founders still lingers. It is almost as if old men in side whiskers are frowning down from the heavens, warning Toronto to keep it buttoned.
All that flew out the window on Thursday night. When the Raps won it all, Toronto the Good went ape. Yonge Street, the city’s main drag, simply erupted with joy.
At Yonge and St. Clair, a pair of teenaged girls in Raptors sweatshirts ran along the sidewalk blowing whistles, a mad gleam in their eyes. A stream of cars roared down the hill toward downtown, horns blaring, flags flying from open sun roofs. Folks who normally would make a detour around anyone who so much as met their eye exchanged grins and high fives.
The southbound Yonge subway was rush-hour full at one in the morning as fans headed downtown to whoop it up. One amped-up guy let out a prolonged cowboy yahoo like the one that Slim Pickens gave as he rode a falling A-bomb to oblivion in Doctor Strangelove. Suddenly, anything seemed possible. On one subway car, a couple of bros told perfect strangers that now, Kawhi was sure to sign for another year with the team. “He’s signing, he’s signing!” a beaming young woman agreed.
Between King and Dundas streets, Yonge was wall to wall people. A big rig on a side street honked out the beat to Let’s Go, Raptors on its horn. The crowd chanted back. A little girl, hoisted onto the shoulders of her smiling father, high-fived everyone she passed as they made their way through the hooting mob. Even the cops in yellow jackets standing along the sidewalk to keep order got high fives from passers-by. “They were very jubilant,” one officer told a TV reporter, with just a trace of understatement.
Sometimes they were straight up goofy. One guy put a fold-up camping chair on the roof of his car and took a seat, surveying the madness like a king from his throne as the car inched through the crowd. Another guy picked up one of those orange traffic cones and put it on his head like a lampshade. At some point, just for the hell of it, the crowd started chanting olé, olé, olé, olé, soccer style.
Maybe it was only the exuberance of the moment, but this one seemed even bigger than that golden day, all those years ago, when baseball’s Blue Jays brought a World Series championship north of the border for the first time. Toronto is a larger, even more successful place than it was then. It surpassed Chicago a few years ago to become the fourth biggest city in North America after Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. The recognition that it often seemed to crave – remember all that preening about being a “world-class city” – has arrived. As the T-shirt slogan puts it, echoing a line from a certain Toronto rapper: Now we’re here.
So there was an unapologetic quality to Thursday night’s party. “I want my chips with a dip, that’s all I know,” said that rapper guy, waxing poetic. “I don’t want my chips plain. I want my chips with a dip. So bring them dips.”
All those raving celebrants weren’t just cheering for the team. They were cheering for the city. And what a city it has become: open, dynamic, bursting with hope and promise. This thrown-together gang of ballers from scattered corners of the continent and the globe somehow came to represent the improvised, almost accidental miracle that is modern Toronto – or for that matter, Canada.
No wonder the town has gone bananas. Here is a rare chance to stand back and marvel at what we have become. The pinched, provincial, limited, self-doubting Toronto of old has vanished in the mist. Somewhere up there, even those side-whiskered city fathers must be allowing themselves a proud little smile.
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