They showed up early, hundreds of lifelong Raptors fans ready to fill Jurassic Park and party long and hard in the hours ahead of Thursday night’s clash against champion Golden State Warriors.
Some wanted to stake out a good position to watch the game on the giant screen outside Scotiabank Arena. Others figured getting there early could give them a chance to win one of several raffles, perhaps even for last-minute chance to watch from inside the arena.
“It’s usually a struggle for me to get up very early but this is the Finals, man,” said 19-year-old Neeraj Varma from North York, who arrived before 7 a.m.
The first-year business student, who grew up idolizing Raptors stars Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan, said it’s going to take a lot of resilience to stay upbeat all afternoon and evening. But he’s ready to face the challenge.
“This is a dream. As Raptors fans we’ve suffered for so long,” Varma said as he and others chanted “We The North” around 9 a.m., still 12 hours from tip-off.
The square officially opens two hours earlier, at 7 p.m. — so the early risers will still likely have to line up with thousands of others looking to get in. Still, they say they wouldn’t miss the party.
By 11 a.m., dozens could be seen waiting in the official line to get in.
Varma said he hasn’t thought about how he’ll celebrate if the Raptors win the title, but he might get a tattoo — or spend the whole week celebrating without sleep.
Students Ella Claridge and her friend Katie Ward travelled from Orangeville to get to Jurassic Park before the crowd, which is likely to stretch for blocks along Bremner Ave.
“You don’t want to miss a historic moment like this,” said Ward, who came with snacks and water.
Claridge, who was inspired to play basketball because of her fandom, said she’s ready to see the Raptors sweep the powerhouse Warriors. “No jinxing,” she said.
Downtown resident Pardeep Sidhu said the wait for the game to start is easy — the hard part was waiting the five days since the Raptors last played.
Still, the idea his beloved team is in the NBA Finals hasn’t really sunk in, he said.
“I had to pinch myself a few times this week. It’s surreal,” he said. “We deserve this. We deserve to be here.”
Sidhu’s friend Anish Bhavsar said he had to skip work to get to Jurassic Park. He said it’s a great feeling to share the camaraderie with strangers.
Regardless of what happens in the Finals, he’s convinced star forward Kawhi Leonard is going to re-sign and stay in Toronto.
“With all that free stuff?” he said, referring to all the promises of free meals and other perks made by local business to convince the superstar to stay.
“The last time I remember getting free stuff was the jumbo video popcorn.”
Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo