Toronto

The Jays World Series win sparked 'pandemonium' in Toronto. Could the Raptors do the same?

When the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1992 World Series, it was estimated that nearly a half-million people took part in the euphoric celebration in the city. But will an NBA championship for the Raptors match that hysteria?

500,000 people celebrated in the streets of Toronto after the Jays 1992 victory

Toronto Raptors fans watch Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Raptors and the Golden State Warriors in the fan area known as Jurassic Park outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

It was Oct. 24, 1992 and reliever Mike Timlin's throw to Joe Carter over at first base in the 11th inning would mark the final out of the 1992 World Series.

It was also a significant moment in baseball history, as the Toronto Blue Jays clinched the series over the Atlanta Braves and became the first Canadian team to win the coveted championship.

It sent the more than 45,000 frenzied fans, who had packed the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) to watch the away game on the giant screen, out onto the streets of downtown Toronto, where they were joined by thousands more, taking over Yonge Street, waving flags, honking horns, screaming and cheering.

At the end, it was estimated that nearly a half-million people took part in the euphoric celebration.

Fans celebrate while driving down a downtown Toronto street on Oct. 25, 1992, after the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series. (Phill Snel/The Canadian Press)

"It was pandemonium," said retired journalist Allen Garr, who was tasked to report on the downtown celebrations for the CBC. "I couldn't hear myself speak."

And now, more than a quarter of a century later, the Toronto Raptors are looking to land themselves in a similar situation, trying to make their own history by becoming the first Canadian team to win an NBA championship.

But would such a victory match the hysteria of '92?

'Embody the whole country'

"When you compare these two phenomena, I think that a Raptors NBA victory would be equally as big as a Jays World Series win in '92," said CBC Sports broadcaster and writer Scott Russell. 

"I would say it's sort of characteristic of how we see team sport in Canada. We get behind whatever big team it is that's performing and comes to embody the whole country."

The City of Toronto is certainly preparing for possible celebrations should the Raptors best the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, a team that's taken three of the past four championships. 

In an email to CBC News, spokesperson Erin George said the city was working with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto Police Service, the Toronto Transit Commission and other partners to co-ordinate crowd management plans for the finals.

A victory would mean that the Raptors would also become the first Canadian team to win a championship in any one of the four major North American professional sports leagues since the Jays repeated their World Series win in 1993 — the same year the Montreal Canadiens took the Stanley Cup.

Joe Carter and Pat Borders embrace in the moments after the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1992 World Series, defeating the Atlanta Braves in six games. (Hans Deryk/The Canadian Press)

Michael Thompson, a Toronto city councillor, said he believes a Raptors win would be as equally as important as the Blue Jays World Series victory, but that it would likely spark a larger celebration. 

"I think today, with respect to the Raptors, the city is overly excited and overwhelmed," he said. "I think we'll be well ahead of that 500,000. I think it'll be closer to the million mark, [people] getting out and wanting to celebrate the Raptors win."

"There's a lot of people who love and die for baseball, and I get that, I appreciate that," said Thompson. "Basketball is a game that more people can play. There's more of a connection and this Raptors team has essentially brought the whole country together."

Back in 1992, the Jays certainly had become a source of national pride. Following the victory, then prime minister Brian Mulroney relayed a message to the team, saying, "You have united a nation behind you, capturing the imagination of Canadians from coast to coast."

'This is their sport'

Over the years, however, the demographics in the Greater Toronto Area have changed, with many new Canadians coming to the region with a bigger appreciation for basketball, said Malcolm Kelly, co-ordinator of the post-graduate sports journalism program at Centennial College.

"This is their sport. And this is a humongous deal for them," he said.

Raptors fever has certainly spread across the country. But while some Jurassic Park spinoffs have cropped up across the country, the official public viewing parties of the games are mostly concentrated in Ontario and the GTA. And a recent Angus Reid Institute poll found that close to equal numbers of Canadians say the Raptors are Canada's team (47 per cent) and Toronto's team (45 per cent).

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard jumps for the basket as Golden State Warriors centre DeMarcus Cousins defends during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., last Wednesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Bob McCown, the host of Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 and Sportsnet, said he doesn't believe the Raptors have the national appeal that the '92 Jays had — and the team still has to this day.

"That Blue Jay fan base exists today. If you go to Seattle when the Blue Jays are there, half the building is Vancouver people," he said.

Still, McCown said Toronto could see a bigger celebration on the city's streets if the Raptors win the series.

"The only difference is the Raptors fan base tends to be younger than the baseball fan base, so I think it will be more out of control," he said.

As for Toronto Mayor John Tory, he wouldn't say whether a potential Raptors win would be bigger than the Jays victory.

"Any time we win a championship, it's big news and it's a great accomplishment for the city," he said. "And it brings joy to the hearts of fans of all different sports.

With files from Lauren Pelley

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