Fans basking in the glory of the Toronto Raptors’ historic NBA championship win rushed to cement the memory with official merchandise Friday as the city prepared for a massive public celebration next week.
People lined up outside several stores peddling Raptors championship gear hours after the sole Canadian team in the NBA beat the Golden State Warriors in Oakland Thursday night. It was the first time an NBA team outside the United States clinched the title.
In some locations – including a store at Scotiabank Arena where the Raptors play their home games – would-be shoppers at times waited in a line longer than a city block. Some stores set a limit on how many items each person could buy.
Many of those waiting wore Raptors shirts and hats but said getting their hands on new designs, which commemorate the team’s victory, is part of celebrating the big win.
Andrea Chrysanthou said she bought championship shirts online at 1 a.m. but felt the need to purchase more for family and friends, as well as some hats. As she stood in line outside a downtown Toronto store, Chrysanthou said her husband was on standby to hit another shop in case the one she was at sold out.
“This is the time to splurge – it’s a collector’s item, it’s one of a kind,” she said. “This is being part of that win, we are actually paying our little $50 to be part of something that is a huge collective across Canada. It’s sort of our membership fee.”
Ahead of Chrysanthou in line, Atiqa Mohammad said she hoped to purchase as many items as possible, wearing some and saving others as pristine keepsakes.
“It’s all part of the experience,” she said. “It’s waiting 24 years, it’s actually witnessing them win, it’s standing in line to get merch on the first day, the parade.”
A parade and public celebration are planned for Monday in downtown Toronto and Mohammad said she had already made arrangements to attend.
“I’ve already rescheduled my meetings and blocked off the morning and most of the afternoon,” she said. “I cleared my day.”
Christian Isleta, who bought two shirts and two hats after a roughly 30-minute wait, said he also planned to attend Monday’s events. The 24-year-old said he has the day off from work but would have pleaded with his managers had that not been the case.
“This doesn’t happen too often,” he said of the championship win. “We don’t know if we’ll get this chance again.”
The parade, which will be televised, is expected to begin near the lakeshore at 10 a.m. Monday and wind its way towards city hall, where a rally will take place. A parade-viewing party is also planned in a nearby park to relieve congestion along the route.
The Raptors will travel in the parade in open-air double-decker buses with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, according to team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city was “so proud” of the team.
“On Monday, we get to come together as a city to celebrate the team,” he said in a statement. “On behalf of the residents of Toronto, I want to congratulate and thank the players, coaches and the entire Toronto Raptors organization for bringing home our city’s first NBA championship!”
The excitement throughout the NBA Finals has been a boon for local bars, restaurants and hotels, but the long-term economic impact of the Raptors’ playoff run will affect tourism and entertainment even beyond Toronto, said sports marketing expert Richard Powers, the national academic director at the Rotman School of Management.
The Raptors are marketed as Canada’s, not Toronto’s, team and that has put the country as a whole on the map, he said.
As for merchandise, the timing of the championship may also help boost initial sales, Powers said. “What do you think the most popular Father’s Day gift is going to be this Sunday?” he said.
Jubilant crowds spent hours celebrating across the country after the Raptors clinched the title in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The win also marks the first time a team from Canada has won a title in one of the four big North American sports leagues since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.