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Toronto Faces in the crowd: Raptors draw a diverse fan base to Jurassic Park

Toronto Raptors fans react in Jurassic Park at Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Young fans, old fans, new fans, die-hard fans: all were represented in Jurassic Park during Game 5, braving rainy, cool, windy Monday night. Thousands of fans descended on downtown Toronto in the hope of witnessing the Toronto Raptors win their first NBA Finals.

Ponchos covered their jerseys as they danced to the tunes played on stage, some wearing inflatable T-rex costumes whose heads bobbed unnaturally in the wind. Random chants of “Let’s go Raptors” started in pockets, reverberating through the crowds. A group played a pickup game of basketball in the back of the crowd. Some smoked marijuana, others vaped or drank booze out of plastic water bottles. They cheered when Raptors star Kawhi Leonard drained a three-pointer and groaned when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors did the same.

The Raptors didn’t win, but after the game they jumped in the streets full of optimism, chanting “Raps in six!”

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The people who crammed into Jurassic Park on Monday were a testament to the Raptors’ growing fan base.

Here are some of their stories:

The Persaud family

Tyrone Persaud stood beneath an umbrella in Jurassic Park with his two children, Shaan, 17, and Seleena, 10. Mr. Persaud came to Canada from Guyana in 1998 as a professional cricket player and fell in love with the Toronto Raptors. He didn’t have access to a TV but would listen to the team play on the radio – just as he had listened to cricket on the radio during his childhood. “These things are so rare,” he said. “I want my kids to see it and say, ‘We were downtown when the Raptors won the NBA title.’ ”

The Mackenzie family

Maria IqBal/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

Nathalie Mackenzie drove 10 hours with her husband and three boys from Kapuskasing in Northern Ontario for the family’s first game in Jurassic Park. “We left yesterday, slept in North Bay, then we drove here the rest of the daytime,” said Ms. Mackenzie, a nurse. The parents took two days off work for the trip in hopes of seeing the Raptors win and their kids being able to say, “I was there, I was at that game when they won the championship,” Ms. Mackenzie said.

Samrin Quader

Samrin Quader was not a sports fan, but she came in from Toronto’s Scarborough neighbourhood to watch Game 5 from Jurassic Park because she wanted to be a part of history. “We always lose in sports. Jays, Leafs. I’ve never heard about us winning,” she said. “So when I heard we got to the Finals I was like, ‘Really?’ And I started watching.” She looked up the rules to basketball and started paying attention to the Raptors. “I saw how crazy it was in Toronto and I had to come down.”

Rick Beaulieu

Maria IqBal/The Globe and Mail

This was Rick Beaulieu’s third time seeing a game at Jurassic Park. He took the GO train from Hamilton with his young daughter to watch Monday’s game. “She’s hooked now,” he said about the new Raptors fan, who stayed home from school after late nights watching the games. Mr. Beaulieu didn’t expect to be so lucky: “I’ll be going to work early tomorrow at 6 o’clock."

Johnny Byanki

Johnny Byanki came to see the game wearing the same Raptors jersey he’s had since he was 10. “This jersey was really oversized when I was a kid, and now it fits nicely,” said Mr. Byanki, 29, who lives in Toronto’s downtown Distillery District. It was his first game in Jurassic Park. “I think the Raptors really put the city on their back,” he said. “It’s a great feeling."

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Jennifer Chu

Maria IqBal/The Globe and Mail

Jennifer Chu came to Jurassic Park from Mississauga with her two daughters, wanting to soak in the atmosphere of the Finals. The realtor used to watch basketball, but didn’t start tuning in again until this year. “I love Jeremy Lin,” she said of the Raptors point guard. “I was in the arena watching games [...] just for Jeremy Lin.”

Alex Broekhuyse

Most fans wore Raptors gear in Jurassic Park. Thousands of Leonards, Lowrys and Siakams walked among the crowd. But one fan stood out. Alex Broekhuyse’s Golden State jersey drew jeers and abuse. “I just relish the hatred,” he said. Mr. Broekhuyse, who is actually rooting for the Raptors, said he likes wearing the Warriors colours to be provocative. “I like seeing the reactions. I’ve gotten a couple of high-fives from people wearing Warriors jerseys but overall it’s overwhelmingly negative. Lots of boos.”

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