By 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Armaity Anandasagar could already see Mississauga’s Celebration Square becoming a sea of jerseys and sunbathing Raptors fans from her apartment on the 30th floor, prompting her to hurry over and join the crowd gathered to watch the NBA Finals.
Dancing to the music blaring from the stage and wearing a Raptors T-shirt her son once caught for her at a game, Anandasagar said she was “high on life.”
“I love it,” she said.
The mood at Jurassic Park West was similarly ecstatic as evening descended and the square lit up with a red glow, hyped by home town DJs Andre 905 and DJ Sir Lancelot. Families spread picnic blankets and set out lawn chairs, donning “King of the North” crowns being handed out at the gate.
Anesto Charles has attended both games’ screenings here — Thursday’s drew some 20,000 viewers — and said the crowd Sunday seemed bigger and more buoyant.
“It’s God’s plan,” added his mom, Rita.
Regardless of outcome, Liezl Mejia said she was proud of how diverse and peaceful the Raptors’ fanbase is — especially in the GTA where Jurassic Parks have popped up in Vaughan, Scarborough, Burlington and Brampton, among other cities.
“You can see it from this crowd alone,” she said.
Celebration Square supervisor Karen Ferreira called the crowd Sunday “so positive, and so full of energy.”
“We know there are so many fans of basketball here. So we wanted to give them a space to come together and celebrate,” Ferreira said.
As many as 36 cities outside of Toronto have been granted permission to host public viewing parties, according to Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.
Mississauga-native Orlando Ocampo has had basketball in the blood since the days when he and his friends would triple up on their bikes and ride for 5k to find a court and play.
The intervening years have scattered he and his old team (formerly known as X-Nation because of the diversity of its players) across the country. But basketball is still what brings them together — even if the hype has moved off the concrete and onto a Whatsapp group chat.
That’s why when his home team clinched a spot in the NBA Finals, the first thing Ocampo did was head back to the 905.
“Living in Calgary whenever I felt homesick I always watched the Raptors because I knew all my friends I grew up with would be watching the game, and my dad would be watching the game,” he said.
“I told all my friends if the Raptors make it to the finals I’ll book tickets and fly home.”
Hamdan Asim grew up in Mississauga and now runs his own media company out of Milton.
“My heart is here,” he said.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he added of the mood at Jurassic Park West.
“You look at the Raptors and they’re very diverse. There’s no one star. As diverse as the Raptors are, it makes everyone feel like they’re part of something. No one is excluded,” he added.
That’s part of the appeal for 40-year-old Ocampo, too; both he and his dad both played in Filipino basketball leagues in the city, and Ocampo has taken that tradition to Calgary with him.
Although he and his 80-year-old dad elected to watch Sunday’s game from the comfort of his Missisauga home, he feels the “Real fans” are at Jurassic Park.
For Ocampo the game is more than just a link to home: it represents his city’s values — “hard work and hustle.”
That’s the reason he’s putting his faith Sunday in his favourite player: Kyle Lowry.
“He’s a bulldog, he’s got that Toronto mentality, that blue collar feel that Toronto fans love and embrace.”
Nonetheless, Ocampo said decades of Raptors fandom has meant a lot of heartbreak — and this week, a hefty price tag. Now, it all feels worthwhile.
“I paid more than I usually pay to come home,” he said.
“Even though it’s just on television, to watch it with my dad — that’s priceless.”
Despite the energetic ministries of DJ Sir Lancelot, the anxiety was palpable at Celebration Square as the Raptors trailed through the fourth quarter — with a series of missed three-point shots eliciting shrieks of anguish.
But if the mood was dampened by the Raptors’ 109-104 loss, it only manifested itself in the orderly and somewhat subdued exodus of fans from the square.
For Asim, who has family in San Francisco to prove wrong, victory is still on the horizon.
“All titans must fall,” said Asim of the loss. “We have a reason to win.”