Raptors fever is spreading, and the biggest symptom of this contagious virus is the outbreak of Jurassic Parks across the land, with more than 50 having reportedly sprung up across the country.
There’s even one down south in Fred VanVleet’s hometown of Rockford, Ill.
But as Toronto fans know, there will always only be one original.
Toronto’s rabid fandom has been shown on broadcasts around the world, and the city has become the place to be for thousands of fans during this unmatched Raptors run.
It has caused an incredible case of FOMO — fear of missing out — although the reality on the ground is a lot grittier than you think. “Life finds a way,” is the most famous line uttered in the original Jurassic Park film, and it’s exactly what came to mind while being in the sea of humanity watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Maple Leaf Square.
Here’s what Jurassic Park is really like:
Where you actually want to be: While there are six zones in Jurassic Park, the one closest to the big screen is the main event. Let’s consider the others more like Triassic Park. The other zones sandwiched by buildings down Bremner Blvd., in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core, provide a long view of the massive 40 x 78-foot screen on the side of Scotiabank Arena. I’ve talked to folks in those other zones, and they say it’s a great time and the views are good, but the Alpha is the main space.
The main zone is right underneath the big screen, where there is a stage, food and beer vendors, and an outdoor studio being used by ESPN’s pre- and postgame shows — which will always garner chants of “Paul Pierce sucks” whenever the former Raptors killer settles in for his analyst duties.
There are also plenty of performances — the house bands are 6ix Stix and Northern Beats — contests and freebies being tossed out. This is where the big-name guests come out. TV analyst Jack Armstrong made his way onto the main stage to hype the crowd, and gave his trademark “Get that garbage outta here” catchphrase, while former Raptors Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady waved to the crowd from the ESPN zone.
While all of the spaces are technically Jurassic Park, the main one is original, and the other areas are like the Chris Pratt sequels — they are OK, but you know which one you actually want.
Getting in: That main space fills up first, and from talking to people who got in, you had to be in line by about 3 a.m. Monday morning for that evening’s game. It’s obviously rain or shine, and there really is no coverage in the square, save for under an elevated walkway to huddle under, and no umbrellas are allowed. With Thursday’s forecast calling for more rain, this season’s hottest Jurassic Park accessory is the poncho that’s handed out. As well, once you are in, there are no in-and-out privileges.
Weed the North: You are not allowed to smoke cigarettes in Jurassic Park, but that certainly didn’t stop anybody from busting out their latest wares from the Ontario Cannabis Store and proceed to get higher, baby, as pungent smoke billowed in the air. Some people tried to be discreet, hitting their vapes to help them deal with the game’s more intense moments. Hey, it’s probably a better deal than the $11 tall cans of Coors.
Freebies: Whenever there is a lull in pre-game festivities or energy, park staff decide it’s time to throw out T-shirts, resulting in an instant mosh pit. You worried about ticky-tack fouls in the game? The jostling and fighting over freebie T-shirts is the most full-contact sport happening in the vicinity of Scotiabank Arena.
Hold onto your butts: Like any popular outdoor event with thousands of people, nature will eventually call, and by game time the portable toilets at Jurassic Park generally end up in a state that will have you dreaming of your porcelain throne at home. At Monday’s game, there was a fancier, truck-sized portable washroom for women that seemed to look like the lap of luxury, but many of them chose to use the more traditional port-o-lets because apparently the former was already in an overflowing state. Considering I had seen the alternative they were choosing to use, I shudder to imagine what the other was like. Even the poo emoji wouldn’t be smiling about this.
Got the munchies: Archeologists will say the diet of the wildlife in Jurassic Park consisted entirely of hot dogs, Pizza Pizza and, obviously, poutine. Would it be a Canadian festival without fries, gravy and cheese curds? Je pense que non.
The atmosphere: There is no arguing, it is incredible. With 10,000 fans in the six zones from all over Canada, of all ethnicities and ages, there is nothing quite like the sublime joy and insanity when the Raptors start going on a scoring run. High fives, hugs and instant friendships with the folks around you just happens. It’s also super crowded, so there’s plenty of jostling and nowhere to sit, but for the most part, everyone remained in good spirits. Seeing the reality of it made me even more impressed with the hardy souls who have been packing it for this entire playoff run.
All hail the Jurassic Park rangers: While we are cheering on our Raptors, it’s worth mentioning all of the behind-the-scenes and front-line MLSE employees who are helping make this happen. My dealings with security staff were excellent, and walking through the aftermath, filled with detritus of cans, used ponchos and other garbage, it is impressive to see the area pretty much clean and ready for what’s next by the morning after. No one likes cleaning up after a party, but they’ve got this down.
Raju Mudhar is a Toronto-based reporter covering popular culture at the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @rajumudhar