TORONTO (AP) — It was just past midnight Monday morning, and Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri decided it was time to go see the people.
So he headed outside — to the line of fans waiting to get into Jurassic Park, a group of die-hards who had been in line for hours and hours and hours already. And this was with Game 5 of the NBA Finals still 21 hours from tipping off.
They were ready for this moment.
All of Canada, it seems, is ready as well.
“Best fans in the world,” Ujiri said as his new best friends cheered.
It is Raptors Fever, and it is running hot all across Canada as the country’s lone NBA team is one victory away from its first championship. From Halifax on the east coast to Vancouver out west and all places in between, the excitement is beyond palpable. Hockey season is still going on, but in Canada, more people are watching the NBA than the NHL right now — and the viewership numbers on Monday night are expected to set another record.
The Raptors lead the series over the Golden State Warriors 3-1, with the clincher possible Monday.
“3 down, 1 to go,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter. “Bring it home, Raptors.”
Here’s a far-from-complete list of places where “Let’s Go Raptors” chants have broken out in the last couple of days:
At a Blue Jays baseball game in Toronto, the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, on an Air Canada flight heading into Toronto, and among spectators at the PGA’s Canadian Open in nearby Hamilton, Ontario. After Rory McIlroy won that tournament, he drew cheers as he waved and wore a red Raptors jersey bearing Kyle Lowry’s name and number 7.
“Raptors in five!” McIlroy yelled.
The craze is crossing cultures, too. Before the National Ballet of Canada performed in Toronto Friday, the same night as Game 4 of the finals, the Raptors logo and “We the North” slogan were projected on the theatre curtain while the crowd took their seats. Performers in that show even taped a “Let’s Go Raptors” message and sent it to the team as the finals were getting started.
After the Raptors won Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, two of the fans who had been cheering in Jurassic Park — the place where Raptors fans gather near the arena in downtown Toronto to watch games on big screens — immediately started the line for Monday’s Game 5.
Angie Taylor, 33, and Tyler Seaton, 31, were more than prepared. They told The Canadian Press they had a tent, a portable grill, and some groceries to get them through Game 5.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Lowry said. “We want them to be excited. We want them to be happy. We want them to be energetic. But we still got work to do.”
One more Raptors victory over Golden State would give Toronto its first major sports championship since baseball’s Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. That second Blue Jays victory came a few months after the Montreal Canadiens lifted the 1993 Stanley Cup. No Canadian-based team has won a championship in baseball, basketball or hockey in the years since, although Toronto FC of Major League Soccer did win the MLS Cup at home in December 2017.
Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard said the team is very aware of the countrywide support.
“I think we have been embracing it this whole time,” Leonard said. “Just enjoying the support and the energy that they’re bringing to the team.”