Around two million Canadians cheer Raptors in NBA victory parade
By Tyler Choi
TORONTO, June 17 (Reuters) - Around two million Toronto Raptors fans lined the streets of downtown Toronto to cheer on their hometown heroes in a victory parade on Monday to celebrate their first NBA championship that united Canada through basketball.
A bus carrying the Raptors was expected arrive at Nathan Phillips Square, which leads to Toronto's city hall. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also expected to arrive at the square, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's office.
Canadians from coast to coast and all the way up to the Arctic have been celebrating since the Toronto Raptors captured their first National Basketball Association championship in a country that is traditionally known as the home of ice hockey.
The Raptors clinched the best-of-seven series in Oakland, California last Thursday in six games by beating the defending champion Golden State Warriors 114-110, sealing a nationwide love affair with basketball.
The Raptors victory is the first major professional sports championship for a Canada-based team since Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993. Toronto has been waiting for its beloved Maple Leafs to win the NHL championship since its last Stanley Cup victory in 1967.
"It's the culmination of playing for 24 years. We've been waiting a long time for this," said Raptors fan Chris Rogers.
Rogers, 34, who has rooted for the Raptors since they entered the league 1995, was dressed in a jersey of Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. He had been waiting since morning to watch the parade.
Rogers said his workplace was fully in support of him being out of the office as they believed the parade was "important."
Monday's victory parade started from the Exhibition Center, where the Canadian National Exhibition is held, and was to culminate at the Nathan Phillips Square.
Approximately two million fans stood by to celebrated and catch a glimpse of the winners according to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Raptors.
Streets were closed off to accommodate the convoy carrying the Raptors, and three subway stations were also closed due to overcrowding on the street level. Enthusiastic fans festooned the streets of Toronto in Raptors colors - red, purple, black and white.
A few fans climbed atop of bus stops and the arches of Nathan Phillips Square, but were asked by police to come down.
The Snowbirds, an aerobatic flight demonstration team of the Royal Canadian Air Forces, is expected to soar over the skies of Toronto to join the festivities.
Toronto mayor John Tory proclaimed June 17, 2019, as "We The North" day to mark the occasion, borrowing the slogan used by the Raptors.
"This championship is the culmination of years of patience, support, devotion and belief. Toronto has proven that it is a basketball city and that the game thrives in The North," Tory said in a statement.
(Reporting by Tyler Choi Editing by Denny Thomas and Bill Berkrot)
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