Hundreds of thousands gather in downtown Toronto for Raptors parade, rally
Jubilant Raptors fans decked out in the team's gear cheered and chanted as a parade starring the newly crowned NBA champions began in Toronto on Monday, the first such celebration in more than two decades.
Crowds packed the route and the square outside City Hall where the march was to end this afternoon. Team players smiled from open top double-decker buses, some splashing gathered fans with champagne, as they moved slowly down the route.
At one point, Kyle Lowry, the longest-serving member of team, was seen hoisting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy while some of his teammates smoked cigars.
Many fans said they decided not to go to school or work so they could attend the massive celebration.
Cypher Sabanal, 15, said his mom let him skip school to attend the parade and rally.
"I actually have exams this week but being here is worth it," he said, adding that he's been a Raptors fan his whole life.
John Moreira said he decided not to go into work so he could be part of the moment.
"I told my boss I wanted to be at the parade and he said there wasn't much he could do if I called in sick so that's exactly what I did," said the 31-year-old. "I'm looking forward to seeing the whole team. They all work so hard and deserve all the fans being out here."
RJ Salvador said he was "hyped" to be part of the massive celebration.
"I'm so happy to be here," said the 28-year-old, who happened to have the day off. "I haven't seen anything like this happen in the city before so it's great to be apart of it."
Some in the crowd had camped out all weekend in the hopes of nabbing a prime spot along the parade route or at Nathan Phillips Square, which was overflowing with people by 8 a.m. Even before the parade began, Toronto police posted on Twitter asking fans to go watch elsewhere.
Parents with strollers tried to make their way into the dense crowd of fans, but some gave up. Across the sea of red shirts, some fans held up signs and enlarged heads of their basketball idols like Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet.
A car carrying coach Nick Nurse was mobbed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be among those celebrating, making a brief visit to Toronto for the event.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to watch the festivities from Nathan Phillips Square. His press secretary said Ford wants the day to be about the fans and players, not politicians.
Mayor John Tory declared Monday "We The North Day" in Toronto, after the NBA champions' slogan. Dressed in his now-famous black-and-gold Raptors blazer, the mayor urged all fans to come celebrate the team's historic win.
"To all employers out there, please let your staff go to the parade. I tell you, if they're Raptors fans, they're going to work twice as hard when they get back to the office," he said.
An hour-long rally will follow the parade at Nathan Phillips Square, the large public square in front of city hall, complete with a fly-by from the Royal Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds demonstration team.
Meanwhile, GO Transit said it was setting up a designated spot at transit hub Union Station's lost and found for any children who may get separated from their group or family.
The last time the city held a sports celebration of this magnitude was after the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993. That parade saw fans climbing trees and statues on city streets to catch a glimpse of a team that included Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.
Then-premier Bob Rae took part in those celebrations, flashing a sign that read "No speech today -- Hooray for the Jays."