Live Blog recap: Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Parade

Board man has jokes. Kawhi Leonard goes full circle while giving speech to Toronto Raptors fans after the championship season.

It’s a day many thought would never come, but here we are. The route has actually been planned, and the Toronto Raptors NBA championship parade is set to take over Toronto today — a day the city’s mayor has officially declared “We the North” day.

Just a week ago, the Raptors were in the midst of the daunting task of de-throning the Golden State Warriors, and after a decisive six-game series they brought the Warriors reign to an unceremonious end.

Today’s festivities, on the other hand, will be especially ceremonial, with floats and double-decker buses transporting the players, coaches, and that coveted Larry O’Bee trophy through the streets of Toronto, beginning at the team’s practice facility at Exhibition Place and winding up downtown at Nathan Phillips Square.

With as many as two million expected to flood the streets and take part — including Raptors fans flying in from across the country — it will be an event that can’t be missed.

Stay up to date with all the latest from the parade itself, along with reflections and analysis from Toronto’s dream season right here — take part and have your say in the comments below.

4:20 pm ET

No updates from Toronto police yet, save for the initial word about the reported shooting in the Southeast corner of Nathan Phillips square about twenty minutes ago.

Word is that there are “conflicting reports” about precicely what went down.

Once again, hard to imagine the players, Drake, fans, etc, have a clue what went down — cell service in the area has apparently been shoddy all day due to the demand on the cell towers — because otherwise that would be an incredibly unaware and insensitive display from the whole group.

Sad ending for an otherwise magical day. Again, please check Citynews.ca or tune in to City TV for any and all updates.

Signing off.

4:15 pm ET

There have been unconfirmed reports of shots fired inside the Eaton Centre as well. Based on their reactions on stage none of the players, etc, are aware of what’s happening around them as the speeches and celebrations continue.

Kawhi does an exaggerated version of his laugh to the delight of the crowd and his teammates, who jump out of their seats in joy. But needless to say it’s become incredibly difficult to enjoy this the same given what’s going down.

Please check Citynews.ca for the latest updates on the situation.

4:01 pm ET

Not the kind of scene anybody wanted to see, and frankly it’s hard to ignore it and focus on the proceedings on the stage at the moment… Unsure if those on stage are aware of exactly what happened.

3:55 pm ET

Jesus.

Matt Devlin interrupts Tannenbaum’s address to tell everybody to stay calm as the proceedings draw to a halt. “Stay strong,” he urges the crowd, “there is an emergency that is being dealt with.”

A few moments later, Tannenbaum resumes his speech but a sense of panic has taken over parts of the crowd during what must be a terrifying moment.

3:52 pm ET

Can’t speak for the Raptors — or the tens of thousands of fans watching in person — but if I’ve been day drinking in the sun on a double-decker bus for six hours, I’m not sure if a speaking engagement with John Tory, Justin Trudeau, and Larry Tanenbaum would exactly be what I’d want to order off the menu.

3:47 pm ET

So far, we’ve learned that part of Bremner Blvd will officially be renamed “Raptors Way,” and now mayor John Tory is giving Kawhi Leonard, on behalf of the entire 2018-19 Raptors, the key to the city.

Trudeau takes the stage next, and greets the crowd by simply yelling “World champions!”

3:42 pm ET

Queen’s We Are the Champions blares from the speakers onto the crowd, who sing along, a personal highlight for my younger-self, who, as a little kid buying the first thing ever with my own money, purchased “The Very Best of Queen” CD. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

3:36 pm ET

As the Raptors players, coaches and staff take the stage, this is nothing short of a hero’s welcome from the jam-packed Nathan Phillips square crowd.

3:28 pm ET

As they begin to announce participants to the crowd as they take the stage, an enormous chorus of boos ring out when Ontario premier Doug Ford’s name is called.

3:24 pm ET

Trudeau working the stage entrance, meetin’ and greeting’ Kawhi, Gasol and others.

3:15 pm ET

Nearly six hours later, the first wave of Raptors players make their way onto the stage.

3:00 pm ET

The Prime Minister has arrived:

2:50 pm ET

Scenes from a parade that goes on for hours longer than anticipated, and you started partying at 9 am:

2:35 pm ET

The Snowbirds have arrived and the flyover was glorious.

But on a more somber note, there are reports that first responders are dealing with lost children and dehydrated fans. I can’t imagine the terror a parent would feel losing their kid among that sea of humanity.

2:13 pm ET

No, Drake has not taken the stage, but the Kawhactus has. So there’s that…

Meanwhile, how many people do you guess are filling Toronto’s streets right now? Suffice it to say many more than the Toronto police and parade organizers anticipated…

2:10 pm ET

“Five more years” has become an unofficial rallying cry for today’s mind-blowing events — it’s been more than six hours of these crowds waiting for the and the images don’t get tired — and here’s the broadcast crew of Dina Pugliese, Tim McCallef and Sid Sixeiro, who, it must be noted, are doing an incredible job as this show carries on hours past expected, breaking down all angles of “Five more years”:

2:00 pm ET

Kawhi on the double-decker alongside his advisor and uncle, Dennis Robertson, Kyle Lowry, and longtime friend and Raps coach Jeremy Castleberry — a face Raptors fans will likely recognize from throughout the season (beside Kawhi, wearing glasses and a cap), who was a walk-on at San Diego State and eventually joined Leonard in San Antonio where he worked his way up the organization.

From my feature profile of Canada’s newest sporting hero:

As Leonard began dominating on the court, off it he found a pair of close friends in teammates Jeremy Castleberry and Taylor Cunningham. They still make up his inner circle today — Castleberry was hired by the Spurs during Leonard’s time in Texas and joined the Raptors coaching staff this summer. “Half the battle with keeping kids in the right direction is their peer group, and Kawhi had a good peer group,” says Dietz. “Kawhi figured out early on what he wanted and what worked for him — and not much has changed since.”

He had his tight-knit family unit, a familiar and small circle of friends, and a passion for something at which he was excelling. But soon, basketball would take on an even greater meaning…

You can read the rest here:

1:50 pm ET

As the parade finally makes its way near Nathan Phillips Square the energy is flat-out contagious (Marc Gasol’s dance moves? not so much):

Moments earlier, the convertible carrying Masai Ujiri made it’s way toward the most congested region of fans, as the Raps’ highly-coveted president was met with chants of “Stay! Stay! Stay!”. Here’s why the futures of Kawhi Leonard and Masai Ujiri could be intertwined.

1:15 pm ET

12:58 pm ET

PSA time:

12:56 pm ET

Honestly, this is kinda brilliant:

Hope he brought a camera!

12:32 pm ET

Important questions I need answered:

1. Did Nick Nurse bring his guitar?

2. Will he be the opener for Drake’s performance later today?

3. If so, what are the odds he panders to the Canadian crowd and plays Bobcaygeon, No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, or Oowatanite? Because I’d like to take that bet.

12:24 pm ET

Perhaps no member of the Raptors organization is more unduly overlooked as general manager Bobby Webster — an absolutely instrumental player in bringing Kawhi Leonard to Toronto, among many other moves that go under the radar.

While the parade continues to slowly progress through Toronto’s city streets, Faizal Khamisa catches up with the championship-calibre GM:

Also, it’s been very cool to see athletes across Canada embrace the Raps during this title run. Here’s a compilation of Raptors’ well-wishers Denis Shapovalov, Joey Votto, and more:

12:05 pm ET

This is seriously like basketball Woodstock — tons of cars seemingly abandoned on the Gardiner expressway overlooking the Lakeshore where the parade is snaking through as countless people are just stopping in the middle of the highway to get out of their vehicles and watch the festivities.

12:01 pm ET

Kawhi, Canada’s favourite athlete, says he knew in training camp that the Raptors were a team capable of winning a championship while speaking with Akil Augustine.

Leonard adds “Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada. We did it!”

Just after training camp we published this Big Read profile I wrote on Leonard, tracing his story back to his childhood through to the trade that brought him to Toronto, and also dispelling some misnomers about the enigmatic superstar:

11:56 am ET

Arguably the most amazing aspect of this 2019 championship team is that it featured exactly zero top ten draft picks. Lowry and VanVleet, who each had monster nights in Game 6 to clinch the ‘ship, are two of the best examples of Raptors players who overcame reputations and naysayers along the road to become major impact players on a title team.

VanVleet was undrafted, too small, too slow, and lacking the pedigree coming from Wichita State. He sure proved everybody wrong.

This feature does a great job of telling VanVleet’s story:

Why Nobody Should Have Underestimated Fred VanVleet

As for Lowry, he made a name for himself during a successful collegiate career at Villanova in his hometown Philadelphia, but entered the NBA as a late first-round pick who still carried a reputation for being difficult to coach and part of the problem as opposed to the solution. It’s a sentiment that followed Lowry through his NBA career, and it wasn’t until he arrived in Toronto that Lowry finally gained the trust he needed from his coaches and teammates to be able to prove his countless detractors flat wrong.

This is the story of Lowry’s amazing journey:

11:45 am ET

Masai Ujiri has been crucial to the Raptors success (you can read more about how Ujiri built this championship team and why he has teams reportedly backing up the Brinks truck to lure him from T.O. here), and has been remarkably consistent in his messaging that the Raptors absolutely should be discussed as potential champs instead of dismissing that notion as flat-out ridiculous.

It’s pretty great to see those words come to fruition, but even Masai can’t really grasp the enormity of today’s events:

11:35 am ET

This. Will. Not. Get. Old.

11:15 am ET

11:13 am ET

Look, based strictly on the music produced, I don’t altogether understand the Drake craze. But he’s obviously played a huge role in raising the profile of this Raptors team and that’s not really up for debate.

What’s more is that, if you were following some of the Raps’ festivities in Vegas this weekend, Drake and Kawhi Leonard seem to have forged a genuine friendship and relationship. If Drake can play any part in recruiting Kawhi to re-sign in Toronto (granted, if anybody is impervious to the allures of celebrity it’s Kawhi Leonard) then please go ahead and work your magic, Aubrey.

It’s hard to imagine what happens if Leonard doesn’t return. The team will surely take a big step back and out of title contention, and I’m fascinated to see how many of these fans stick around in that scenario.

11:06 am ET

There are a ton of Raptors jerseys throughout the gargantuan crowd — including many that belong to longtime fans of the team.

It’s so amazing to see the number of new fans who have been drawn in by the Raptors’ title run, whether they were basketball fans already who simply began rooting for the team, or those who’ve been introduced to this amazing sport over the past weeks or months.

But for those who suffered through many torturous years of losing basketball in which the Raptors were a laughing stock and seemingly second-class citizens in the NBA, this moment must be especially bittersweet.

It’s not hard to identify those fans in the crowd. They’re the ones wearing the Damon Stoudamire, Andrea Bargnani (yes, people wear it proudly — hey, the guy was the first overall pick and a gifted offensive player), and Jason Kapono jerseys (yup, can’t make it up) really put in their time and suffering to get to today!

Special shoutout to whoever was wearing the Jamario Moon jersey I just saw. What an agonizing talent who summed up the Raptors dark days so well — clearly gifted but always disappointed. But hey, Moon could really fly!

10:59 am ET

Fun fact: My buddy Adam, a true die-hard longtime Raptors fan who lives in the (beautiful) Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, booked a plane ticket once the parade was announced following Toronto’s title win. He arrived this morning at 6 am and headed straight to an already-packed Nathan Phillips Square. Unreal dedication to his team and a want to be a part of this potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The crazy part? From what I hear he’s one of many who have travelled from afar to be a part of this monumental event. A very cool testament to the degree to which the power of sports and fandom can unite an entire nation.

10:55 am ET

Important flyover update (no, not the Snowbirds — not yet at least):

10:50 am ET

This parade will take much longer than expected, I’d imagine, given the mammoth crowds flooding Toronto’s streets. The buses carrying the players and the championship trophy (and apparently buckets of booze) haven’t even reached the Princess Gates area which was supposed to signal the start of the parade due to the sheer amount of people.

This sentiment will not grow tired today: It is extremely difficult to wrap your head around the images of the crowds today. Un-believable.

10:42 am ET

As the players and their families (…and Drake, who is on a bus with Lowry and Fred VanVleet) slowly — and I mean slowly make their way to Nathan Phillips Square, take the time to check out Sportsnet’s NBA Finals opus courtesy Arden Zwelling. You won’t regret it.

10:30 am ET

This just in: Drake is expected to perform to what I’m guessing is his biggest audience to date.

10:10 am ET

As we continue to try to wrap our heads around the sheer amount of people — and support — the Raptors are drawing in Toronto this morning, we also have some fairly big news concerning the Canadian senior men’s national basketball team, who kick off World Cup action (and Olympic qualifiers) this summer in China:

One of the more obvious takeaways from this Raptors title run and the waves of Canadians swept up in it — virtually half the nation tuned in to watch basketball last week, a sentence that is hard to comprehend — and what it means for the growth of the game going forward. A ton of kids are going to grow up basketball fans, and players, first now thanks to the Raptors success… But a Canadian Olympic berth will also be a monumental step towards continuing to grow the game. Wiggins is far from a perfect player, but he provides a legitimate talent boost to the Canadian roster.

9:55 am ET

BREAKING: Serious competition for Danny Green and his giant mohawk in the form of Kyle Lowry, who is sporting an original Raps #20 Damon Stoudamire throwback dino jersey:

9:45 am ET

Early winner of the parade? Danny Green, who is sporting a new ‘do for the big celebration:

Also, some incredible images from the crowds already as the Raptors get set to board their busses.

8:25 am ET

An early update here to say that, unsurprisingly, Nathan Phillips Square is already packed. The way this city and country have embraced the Raptors title run has been nearly unfathomable and it’s safe to say that the images we’ll see today will live on for a long, long time in the city’s sports history.

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