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Toronto Raptors' Chris Boucher mingles with fans and signing basketballs during a homecoming visit following the Raptors' NBA championship win over the Golden State Warriors, in Montreal on July 26, 2019.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Hundreds of young people from Montreal North, and even a few not-so-young, welcomed home local hero and NBA champion Chris Boucher on Friday.

The Toronto Raptors forward wanted to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the emblem of the NBA championship, to where it all began for him.

“This is really an important moment that I will remember all my life,” he told reporters before being bombarded by requests for photos and autographs from fans.

“There are so many young people here who are talented and want to excel in life, so if I can be an example for them to keep pushing, then why not,” said the six-foot-ten Boucher, who encouraged young people to find their passion and believe in themselves.

His collaborator and former coach, Ibrahim Appiah, confirmed it was Boucher who asked for the public gathering.

“He told me he wanted to come to Montreal North, because it’s very important for him to give back to the community. He understands the impact he can have on young people in his current position,” Appiah said.

Wilman Edouard of the Club de basketball Montreal-Nord, who remembers watching Boucher play on the neighbourhood’s outdoor courts, sees him as a symbol of hope and resilience for young people.

“When we talk about equal opportunities and social inequalities, basketball succeeds in rebalancing things and getting young people to live with hope,” he said. “This is what Mr. Boucher has just demonstrated.”

For Ricardo Telamon, co-ordinator of the basketball program at Henri-Bourassa high school, Boucher’s visit reinforced the message he gives his young student athletes.

“There, they see that the dream is possible, because here is a guy from Montreal North, who played on this court, who grew up here and who succeeded,” he said. “That makes all the difference, because my message is real for them now.”

Raphael Constant, a member of Henri-Bourassa’s provincial champion Rams, said the success of Boucher – and of another Montreal North product, Luguentz Dort, who has just signed a first professional contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder – gives him added motivation.

In response to a question from the crowd, Boucher said that after his injury in his final year with University of Oregon, and again after he was released by the Golden State Warriors at the end of the 2018 season, he thought his career was over.

“I used those moments, where I felt weak and where I felt I could not do it, to come back stronger,” he said.

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