Toronto

'I'm living a dream': Raptors victory parade takes over Toronto

Hundreds of thousands of ecstatic Raptors fans packed the streets of Toronto in a mega-celebration today as the team's official NBA championship parade moved slowly through the downtown area, culminating in a victory rally in Nathan Phillips Square.

Raptors given key to the city after massive celebration of historic NBA win

The parade shut down parts of Toronto's downtown area for cheers, chants and champagne showers. 7:48

Hundreds of thousands of ecstatic Raptors fans packed the streets of Toronto in a mega-celebration Monday as the team's official NBA championship parade crawled through the downtown area, culminating in a victory rally in Nathan Phillips Square.

Throngs erupted in cheering and chanting for hours, zealously celebrating the historic NBA team — and their new hardware, the Larry O'Brien Trophy. You can see a full recap at CBC's live blog here.

The champions smoked cigars and sprayed champagne on screaming fans as the buses inched through the streets, arriving for the rally almost three hours behind schedule.

"I'm living a dream right now," Serge Ibaka, Raptors centre and power forward, said to CBC News while atop one of the buses carrying players and coaches.

Downtown Toronto was a sea of Raptors red and black, jammed with screaming fans chanting "We the North" and "Let's go Raptors" and singing the national anthem.

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard takes a selfie holding his playoffs MVP trophy during the team's championship parade in Toronto on Monday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Some people skipped school and work to be there, while others drove hours to witness the historic occasion. Nathan Phillips Square was at full capacity, the city said, and massive crowds shut down several downtown subway stations.

At some points, police tried to keep back frenzied fans as they clamoured to catch a glimpse of the players. Some fans watched atop trucks and traffic poles.

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry on board one of the five double-decker buses that were part of the parade. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The rally continued despite a shooting near Nathan Phillips Square just before 4 p.m. ET, which left four victims with non-life-threatening injuries. Police said that two firearms were recovered and three people were in custody.

Throughout the parade route, the team and their families — along with the trophy — rode a total of five open-air, double-decker buses, which began at the Princes' Gates at Exhibition Place.

"This is the best thing I've ever seen in my whole life," said Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam, who's known as Spicy P.

Nathan Phillips Square was jam-packed during the rally. (CBC)

"I don't believe nobody went into work today," said Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard. "Or they got the first few hours of the day off."

Fans weren't just cheering for the players.

Nav Bhatia, the well-known Raptors superfan, led the parade as grand marshal, travelling via golf cart and wearing a Raptors-branded championship turban as fans chanted his name.

Nav Bhatia, the well-known Raptors superfan, led the parade as grand marshal. (Gerry Angus/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

Drake, the Raptors' "global ambassador," poured mixed drinks with players atop the bus. Meanwhile, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse waved to the crowds from the back of an open truck of his own.

Bagpipe players marched through the streets, and the Canadian Armed Forces joined the route. With the team around the corner, the Snowbirds performed a special Raptors flyby over Nathan Phillips Square. 

"I've never felt this unity in our city ... in our country," said Raptors fan Liban Jobrio. He left Toronto years ago to move to Australia, but flew back as the Raptors neared the trophy.

"It's beautiful, man ... I'm speechless."

Hundreds of thousands of people jammed the city's downtown core. (Albert Leung/CBC)

At the rally, Mayor John Tory presented the Raptors with the key to the city and announced he would rename a section of Bremner Boulevard as Raptors Way.

"What you have accomplished together is deserving of the highest honour that this city can offer," said Tory, presenting the key to Leonard.

Leonard rolls past throngs of adoring fans. (The Canadian Press)

"Every door in this city is open to you and your teammates. But if you find one that doesn't open, you call us and we'll look after it."

The crowd started chanting "stay" at Leonard.

Head coach Nick Nurse said he's "never seen anything like this parade and I'm sure I never will again."

Some fans watched the parade atop traffic poles and trucks. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"I think it was Bono who said the world needs more Canada," said Nurse. "The world just got it."

Several Raptors players addressed the crowd and thanked their fans. Kyle Lowry called the championship win a "long time coming."

"Enjoy this moment and have fun with it," said Leonard, who was uncharacteristically animated throughout the day. He finished his speech saying "aha, ha, ha, ha" — a nod to his now-famous laugh at his introductory news conference — and the crowd went wild.

Drake said this was one of the most important moments that he's ever been on stage, and encouraged crowd members to give each other hugs. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were among the other dignitaries at the rally.

"The diversity this team represents is that of this entire country, this entire world ... and that's what we celebrate," Trudeau shouted.

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam sprays the crowd with champagne. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Fans began filling the downtown area on the weekend, following Thursday's win over the Golden State Warriors. By 6 a.m. Monday, crowds were lining the parade route and spilling into Nathan Phillips Square, where Raps fans started camping out Sunday morning. 

Sam Tabit, from Etobicoke, stood outside from 6:30 a.m. waiting to see the Raptors drive by. He says it was worth it.

"This is the greatest moment in Canada, right now," he said.

The parade took more than four hours to wind its way through downtown Toronto. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"We're feeling like we're on top of the world right now," said the Raptors' only Canadian player, forward Chris Boucher, surrounded by family members.

During the parade, Leonard waved and grinned at the crowd as fans chanted "MVP," a reference to the star Raptors player winning most valuable players honours after the team wrapped up the NBA championship.

"The last few days have been amazing. No sleep. A lot of celebrating. And we're going to keep going," said Leonard in an interview atop the bus. "Thank you Toronto. Thank you Canada for the support. We did it."

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse rode through the crowds on an open truck. (Albert Leung/CBC)

People waited for hours in the sun to welcome their champions.

Morteza Hashimi said he grew up watching basketball and fell in love with the Raptors at a young age. He spent the night before the parade on the concrete of the square because he wanted to have an unobstructed view.

A euphoric crowd greets the Raptors by the Princes' Gates at Exhibition Place. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"It's really important because the amount of years we've spent watching this team, the amount of heartbreaks, the devastation that we've had in playoffs and the really bad years that we've gone through," Hashimi reflected.

Dave and Darren Pierre came from Ottawa, backpacks stuffed with blankets and supplies, to "witness Canadian history."

"I mean, this could be once in a lifetime. Having a championship in Toronto, especially in Canada, I just can't miss this," said Dave.

"I just want the best seat in the house. I want to be able to see it with my own two eyes," said Darren before the parade.

"It's something I've been waiting for since I was a kid. All that emotion, all that joy. Watching them over the years — it's unbelievable."

Raptors players, coaches and staff started returning to the city on various flights on Saturday to throngs of cheering fans gathered at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Since their Game 6 win over the Warriors last week, many players have been celebrating in Las Vegas alongside rapper Drake.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the corporation that owns the Raptors and hosted the official championship parade and rally, expected two million people to attend the event. 

Raptors players popped bottles of champagne and smoked cigars as they paraded past adoring fans. (Albert Leung/CBC)
Fans jammed the streets of Toronto during the victory parade. (CBC)
Leonard greets fans while holding his playoffs MVP trophy. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Leonard smokes a cigar while holding his playoffs MVP trophy as he celebrates with rapper Drake and his mother Kim Robertson. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Raptors players Serge Ibaka, left, and Lowry pose with the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the nightclub XS in the Wynne hotel in Las Vegas. (DAvid Becker/Getty Images for Wynn Las Vegas)

With files from Laura Howells, Haydn Watters, Glenn Ross, Chris Glover, Devin Heroux, Lucas Powers

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