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Toronto Shows its Championship Spirit

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With traffic virtually stopped, some Toronto fans went to extreme measures to show their support for the Raptors and cheer the team’s NBA championship. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

It felt like 1992.

Lots of cellphones this time and plenty more pot smoke blowing in the air, but much else was the same, even, strangely, the weather. The victory song of car honks, euphoric high-fiving with strangers, joyous marching with revellers past midnight, and the chant — save for two syllables — were very much reminiscent of the first Toronto sports celebration I participated in. The two-syllable difference — “Let’s go, Raptors!” had replaced “Let’s go, Blue Jays!” — denoted the shift in stature of the city’s sports franchises.

The Blue Jays’ 1992 win, sparked by a bold off-season trade that sent two of the team’s most beloved baseball players to a southern American franchise, marked an end to Toronto’s long tenure as “contender” and its ascent to champion. The Raptors, similarly, dealt a fan favourite to a “San” team in order to secure the talent it would need to find ultimate glory.

What I didn’t realize on October 24, 1992 was the uniqueness of the impromptu party in the streets. It was so new to the city that people weren’t sure what to do. For the most part, I saw little rambunctiousness when I left SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) after watching Game 6 of the World Series on the stadium’s scoreboard. The game was played in Atlanta and broadcast on the SkyDome’s giant centrefield screen. After the final out seized the win in 11 innings, the fans in the ’Dome streamed into a chilly but warmer-than-usual October night to meet with those who had cheered in bars or in their homes. We walked along Front Street and then north on Yonge Street in a parade of glee.

Toronto Parties Like Its 1992 (and ’93)

On Thursday night, 27 years later, the scene was re-enacted. After watching the Raptors clinch victory in California, fans hit the streets on a cooler-than-expected June night. The celebration of the city’s lone NBA championship was more raucous than the first World Series title, but there was an air of innocence, too, a refreshing sense of “we’re so excited, would someone please tell us what to do!”

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A fan hops onto the rear platform of a box truck to get a good glimpse of the scene on King Street following the Raptors’ title-clinching win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

There was commotion, for sure, but certainly the activity was tamer than what most other cities endure following a championship. Fireworks were set off, a few daredevils climbed onto the top of a moving box truck, two police cars and street signs were vandalized, a silly group hopped into the cold fountain at city hall, and dozens of fans poured onto the roof of a public bus that police had used as a barricade at the corner of Yonge and Queen streets. When a police officer requested they vacate the bus, the fans did. A shooting at 4:15 am on Friday caused the only injury in the downtown core and the motivation of the violence was still to be determined, police said.

In 1993, when the Jays won again on Joe Carter’s historic ninth-inning walk-off home run, there was more chaos, perhaps because the awe of a championship had worn off the second time around. I witnessed hurling of beer bottles, smashing of windows, and drunken aggressiveness that was largely absent in ’92 and 2019. Still, Toronto was comparatively calm, especially in the ’90s when riots following major sports events often resembled displays of anarchy.

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Toronto’s TD Tower displays the “We The North” rallying cry that the Raptors and their fans use to distinguish themselves from others in the NBA. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

That Toronto managed to cap a brilliant performance by its basketball team with a celebration that included thousands and thousands of partygoers but minimal disruption and damage stands as another win for the city. Throughout the Raptors’ run, Canada’s leading metropolis demonstrated its character as a peaceful community with a level of racial and religious integration that’s unmatched anywhere else. American media was particularly curious about the city’s diversity and its harmoniousness. The performance of its citizens, not just its players, on an international stage will help Toronto attract more visitors this summer.

It will never be the prettiest city or the most historically important or the one you would associate with an exotic escape, but Toronto is welcoming and easy to get to know and full of quirks and charms. Those characteristics haven’t changed over the years and it doesn’t take a major sports championship to surface them.

Too often cities tie their own perception of themselves to the performance of their sports teams. Toronto, as the world found out, has been a champion for a long time in arenas outside of our playing fields.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.