Jimmy Kimmel’s celebrity correspondent Guillermo Rodriguez pushed his way through a throng of reporters, popped up beside Toronto Raptor Norman Powell and then produced a bottle of maple syrup and two shot glasses.
Hundreds of journalists from around the world converged on Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena Wednesday, on the eve of tip-off between the Raptors and Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. They were not all sports reporters at a supersized media spectacle of this scale. Everyone wants in on the Finals.
It’s the first time the NBA’s championship series will be played outside the United States. The late-night TV personality invited Mr. Powell to celebrate by doing maple-syrup shots right there in the middle of his live scrum with journalists. He prodded Mr. Powell about what Raptors are anyway. Dinosaurs? Big dinosaurs?
“No, but they’re fast and they’re vicious,” Mr. Powell quipped. “Just like this team.”
The Raptors are in the Finals for the first time in 24 seasons of existence. Clinching their berth at home last Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks made it official. But it was Wednesday’s gigantic gathering of media on the Raps’ court that really brought it home. The franchise has never seen anything like this.
This is the fifth straight Finals appearance for Golden State, who emerged champs in three of the past four. The Warriors began each of those final series at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Starting without home-court advantage – and in Canada, against a team not starring LeBron James – is totally unique.
After doing 30 minutes of light shooting for the benefit of cameras, the Raptors each broke off into their individual interview positions – all scheduled to the minute by the NBA. Broadcasters spotted the floor, doing live hits in countless languages.
The series’ biggest personalities spoke in an extra large press-conference space specially popped up in a large back hallway for the Finals. Raptors president Masai Ujiri gave appropriate credit to the coach he fired last year, Dwane Casey, and the city’s beloved son he traded, DeMar DeRozan. He called his franchise-changing player Kawhi Leonard “the best two-way player in the NBA.”
Mr. Leonard has been through this Finals hoopla twice before with the San Antonio Spurs, where he became a champion and NBA Finals MVP.
“Once this is over, it’s still between the lines. You’re playing five-on-five. We’re still playing basketball,” Mr. Leonard said, on the advice he’s given his Raps teammates. “We know what we need to do here inside this locker room every day, so don’t pay attention to people who are not in your locker room.”
Kyle Lowry, the longest-tenured player on Toronto’s roster, was asked if this is vindication for past playoff runs, when he was criticized for a lack of scoring or not leading the Raptors over the hump. He couldn’t be lured into sentimental talk.
“When you get to the point where you make it to the NBA Finals, you won, but you still got more to do,” Mr. Lowry said. “Getting here doesn’t do anything but just getting here. We still want to try to win this.”
As Mr. Lowry spoke, the Warriors arrived at the stadium, turning heads as they sauntered the hallway in matching grey sweatsuits. The champs then followed the same tightly scheduled media routine: podiums, scrums, shots up for the cameras.
Steph Curry casually launched a long ball while standing on the Raptors logo at mid-court and swished it. Golden State’s megastar point guard shot hoops here as a boy when his father, Dell Curry, played for the Raptors.
“I lived here for a couple years, went to school out here,” Mr. Curry said. “I look forward to coming back here every regular season and now, to be in the NBA Finals, it’s something I’ve even been looking forward to if they ever made it.”
Media probed Golden State’s power forward Draymond Green for recently calling himself the best defender ever. The charismatic player stood by his claim. “I think, as a competitor, if you’re trying to do something meaningful, if you don’t have the mindset that you’re the best ever, you failed already,” Mr. Green said.
Little news came from Finals media day. As expected, Kevin Durant won’t play Game 1 for Golden State, but DeMarcus Cousins might. OG Anunoby said he hopes to return for Toronto during the Finals. He has missed the past month and a half recovering from an appendectomy.
Wednesday was just for talk and hype. Thursday is when the story starts to be written.