At 1 a.m. on Friday morning, more than an hour after the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the National Basketball Association finals, the corner of Yonge and Dundas streets was still utter bedlam. Every driver that managed to pass through the crowds spilling off the sidewalk was leaning on the horn with abandon. Every vehicle with a sun roof had a waving flag or a raving fan sticking out of it. Every dude with a roaring motorbike or muscle car had converged on the city’s central hub.
A pedicab driver led a chant of “Let’s go, Raptors.” Firecrackers exploded right and left. An enormous man in an enormous SUV stopped, got out of his car and took a 360-degree video just to show his pals he was there. A mother with two girls in the back seat took the same kind of shot from her minivan. Two guys rushed into the middle of the intersection each time the lights changed and started jumping up and down as if on pogo sticks. Dozens joined them, forming a heaving mosh pit on asphalt.
Yes, Toronto is a little excited, all right. This buttoned-down, uptight, all-business burg has gone right off its head for the Raptors. After so many years of heartbreak and disappointment, the city is careful about giving its heart away to any sports team. The Leafs got us all in a lather, then fell flat once again. The Jays are “rebuilding,” which is what the rest of us call losing.
This one feels different. This one feels real. Any once-bitten, twice-shy reservations this town may have harboured about these heroes on stilts dissolved in one long, electrifying Game 7 moment when the ball went bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce – and in. After that, we were goners.
So the city was out-of-its-mind thrilled, but not really surprised when its team dominated the glittering stars of Golden State in the first game. Our guys just seem so solid. Their confidence is contagious. Suddenly, we have faith. Suddenly, we believe in miracles. And why not?
We have a stone-cold superstar who seems entirely immune to doubt. We have a laser-eyed, fast-passing, three-point-draining veteran who wiped the grin off his face after making the finals and told the world: We are not satisfied. We have a fleet-footed new father whose hands are on fire. We have not one, but three long-armed giants of the court, each a deadly threat in his own way. Oh, and we have the world’s best cheerleader, a trash-talking part-time massage therapist whose courtside theatrics are a whole separate spectator sport.
This team has the aura of champions. The aura of the Jays in the early nineties when they brought the World Series north of the border for the first time. The aura of those legendary Leafs who last brought the Stanley Cup to Toronto in (oh, God) the sixties.
Of course, even the fiercest fan must admit that the dream might not come true. The other team is, um, pretty good. Its own sylph-like superstar can put a dagger through your heart before you even see it. Its other prolific killer could come back from his injury and join the battle. It is no accident that these guys have won the last two championships. They have a swagger of their own. One loss isn’t likely to change that.
But if Game 1 showed anything, it is that our side is not intimidated. To succeed in sports, as in any endeavour, you need not just talent, but conviction. You need that inner voice that says: I can do it. The Raptors are hearing it loud and clear. If ever they have doubts, the fans are there to whisper it in their ears: You can do it.
We are experiencing one of those rare moments when a team and its city form a bond, the players inspiring the fans with their artistry, the fans inspiring the players with their devotion. However this turns out, it’s a great feeling. Enjoy it, Toronto.