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4 times the Toronto Raptors didn't go as far as fans hoped (before this year)

The wait is over for an NBA championship in Toronto. In years past, some fans saw victory a little earlier than when it finally arrived.

Prior to 2019, Dino fans occasionally saw post-season victory on the horizon when it was not to be

This year, the Toronto Raptors went just as far as their fans wanted them to -- they won the NBA championship for the first time in franchise history. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

The Toronto Raptors' diehard fans waited for years for their team to do the impossible — to win an NBA championship.

And the Raptors finally claimed that prize after defeating the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Now the only thing to wait for is the victory parade.

Toronto Raptors fans had hoped to be celebrating a championship win after Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Instead, they had to wait one more game for Toronto to clinch a victory. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

But some fans saw victory on the horizon at a much earlier point in franchise history.

Some who were so hungry for playoff glory, in fact, that they occasionally got ready to celebrate a championship that was not forthcoming. (At least back then.)

2001: Possible 'champions'?

MLSE employees talk about where the Raptors could go in the 2001 NBA playoffs. 0:32

The sixth-season Raptors squad looked good in the early post-season, as they made their first-ever push into the second round of the playoffs by beating the New York Knicks in the spring of 2001.

"I think if we continue to work as hard as we've been working and go even further in the playoffs, we will turn some heads," said veteran Antonio Davis, when speaking to reporters about the Raptors' continuing post-season prospects in early May.

"And that'll be a good thing for the team, for the organization and for us as players."

CBC's Canada Now aired clips of MLSE employees — as in people who worked for the company that owned the basketball team — talking about how far the Raptors could go.

"I've never been a basketball fan, and I don't think it's just because I'm working for the company, I think it's just  — they're doing so well and so amazing. Like, how could you not be proud?" said Camille Nicholson.

The word "champions" was used by Ravi Raeendra, who also worked for MLSE.

Toronto Raptors' Antonio Davis (33) dunks over Philadelphia 76ers' Dikembe Mutombo in the first quarter during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia, on Sunday May 20, 2001. (Miles Kennedy/Associated Press)

The Raptors, who were up 1-0 against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals when the Canada Now report aired, lost the deciding seventh game in the series later that month.

But it was close, as still-heartbroken Raptors fans will remember all too well.

Toronto Raptors GM Glen Grunwald (left) and coach Lenny Wilkens (in foreground) field questions at a season-ending news conference in Toronto on Tuesday May 22, 2001. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Coach Lenny Wilkens thought the team had a lot to be proud of, despite the loss.

"We have shown that basketball can be big time here in Toronto and I think everybody has a chance to see that," Wilkens told reporters a couple of days later.

2004: 'This is our time, man'

Kevin O'Neill and Jalen Rose talk to reporters on the Raptors' chances of making the playoffs. 0:33

In the spring of 2004, the Raptors were doing all they could to nab a playoff spot — which would mean a lot to fans who saw no playoff action the previous season.

Coach Kevin O'Neill said it all came down to the Raptors' ability to rack up some wins.

"We control our own destiny," he said in mid-March, when the team was sitting in 10th place in their conference.

"We win games, we give ourselves a chance. If we don't games, we don't have a chance to get to the playoffs."

Jalen Rose had a similar take.

"If we continue to play winning basketball ... I feel like we can control our own destiny," he told reporters.

Canada Now asked fans if they felt the Raptors could make the playoffs. 0:33

Some fans had a much more optimistic outlook for a season the Raptors would finish with a 33-49 record.

"It's fate — this is our time, man," said a passionate Raptors fan who spoke to CBC News at Toronto's Union Station. "We're going all the way, baby," he added.

Another fan standing nearby had a comparatively muted prediction for the team that still exceeded what the actual Raptors were saying.

"I don't know ... I"m saying they're going the rest of the season without a loss — no doubt," he told CBC News, with a half-smirk, suggesting that he may have been joking. "I['ve] got full confidence in the Raptors."

Neither prediction came true. From that point, the Raptors went 4-11 to finish the season. They did not make the playoffs and their coach was fired.

2007: First in division, first-round exit

In 2006, the Raptors made their first playoff appearance in four years. 0:28

After a playoff drought stretching back to the Vince Carter era, the Raptors won their division in 2007 and Toronto fans were ready to see their team rip through their opponents.

When the CBC's Steven D'Souza tried to take the pulse of those with Raptors Fever, it seemed some were overcome with fever dreams of victory — and the regular season hadn't even ended yet.

"Oh yeah, the Raptors are going to go all the way!" said a boy rooting for the Raptors who was, paradoxically, wearing a Miami Heat Dwyane Wade jersey when speaking to CBC News.

Slightly older fans were excited, too, but more wary of what could happen based on experience.

"Extremely excited," said a fan with a smile on his face, thinking back to a few years of on-court failure. "It's been a long time. Like four years, I've been through some hard times [as a fan]."

The hard times weren't over for the long-suffering fanbase: The Raptors lost in six games to the Nets. In the first round.

2016: 'We want LeBron!'

Raptors fans were pumped to see their team take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. 0:36

In 2016, the Raptors made it back to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time in 15 years.

And when they did, they pushed through the Miami Heat to reach the third round of the NBA playoffs for the first time.

"We took care of business!" an excited fan told CBC News at the time. 

The problem? They were facing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James dunks on the Toronto Raptors during first half Eastern Conference final NBA playoff basketball action in Toronto on Friday, May 27, 2016. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Some fans seemed confident they had nothing to fear in seeing their Raptors take on the NBA superstar and the Cavs — including those CBC News spotted chanting: "We want LeBron! We want LeBron!"

They got him — but maybe not what they wanted.

Because it wasn't their team celebrating when the series was over. Cleveland beat Toronto in six games.

Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll look on in the final seconds as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)