NBA

Welcome, Raptors fans, to Jurassic* Park

Jurassic Park, the unofficial name for the square outside of the Air Canada Centre, has a reputation as the ultimate Toronto Raptors fan experience. We went to see if it lives up to the hype.

A diehard fan checks off a big basketball bucket list item

Turns out that standing outside for nearly 4-and-a-half hours is a pretty fun way to watch the Raptors play. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

I have always been apprehensive about Jurassic Park.

No, not the film franchise where Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum had to outwit an island of crafty dinosaurs and the guy who played Newman on Seinfeld.

I'm talking about the area outside of the Air Canada Centre where Toronto Raptors fans gather to watch the game projected onto the side of the building. They seemed so happy, so enthusiastic. I didn't get it. Plus, the hype it's received in the media led me to believe the experience was being oversold.

But I've been a Raptors fan since they wore those half-black, half-purple jerseys and Antonio Davis patrolled the key. I played RaptorBall at a local community centre, looked enviously at the kids in school who got the latest pair of VC IIIs and had my heart broken by every star player who left town for greener pastures. 

I've been with the team for the highlights (I was at the ACC when they beat Kobe in 2010) and the low moments (enough to bloat my already lofty word count) and have stuck it out through front office overhauls, Rasho Nesterovic and chanting "Pi-zza! Pi-zza!" when the team was losing but close to 101 points.

Going to Jurassic* Park (more on the asterisk later) is a Raptors fan rite of passage, an item to check off my sports fan bucket list.

So I went there for Game 2 against Miami as a regular fan, ready for my George Plimpton moment. Except, unlike Plimpton, I broadcast my adventures through the CBC Sports Snapchat account.


The reality on the ground

No fair-weather fan would risk sciatica to endure nearly four-and-a-half hours of standing outside with minimal alcohol availability. The crowd at the Park is comprised of dedicated fans of all ages who spend most of the game with their eyes glued to the screen. The broadcast audio is pumped into the square, so the constant fan noise comes mostly from inside the arena.

Being in the crowd in Jurassic Park is like being in a TV studio audience — you cheer good moments, boo Miami's successes and get riled up when the camera crane pans over the crowd. There's a space at the back where tired fans sit on the ground, but I was determined to stand throughout the game.

Some suggestions to anyone looking to go:

  • You may not be playing, but you should stretch beforehand. My knees locked up with four minutes to go in the first half.
  • All-white PF Flyers may look cool, but they offer little in the way of ankle support. Function trumps fashion.
  • When weighing your food options, hold off on the deluxe poutine and go straight for "chicken in a bag." It will burn your face, but it's totally worth it.
  • If you see someone with a vintage jersey (Damon Stoudamire! Joey Graham! Jamario Moon!) go up to them and ask how and why they preserved such arcane memorabilia. It's an easy way to make new friends.
  • As for the bathroom situation... hold it in or risk missing a game-changing moment. If it works for European footy fans, it's good enough for us.
Fans were locked into the action being projected on the side of the Air Canada Centre. (Benjamin Blum/CBC Sports)

Pros and cons from the Park

During the fourth quarter of Game 2, the crowd entered into a trance. There was a palpable hum during each possession that either culminated in raucous applause or unbridled frustration. Kyle Lowry was able to evoke both ends of the emotional spectrum from fans.

Overtime just added to the tension, making the experience even more memorable. Oh, and the Raptors won, which was a nice way to wrap up my narrative.

The final buzzer was cause for celebration, but it was short-lived. After a solid 15 seconds of cheering, the Park immediately emptied. It's understandable (people have work in the morning, children I suppose require sleep) but the instantaneous shift from mosh pit to parking lot was eerie.

Also, my inner nerd is compelled to point out that velociraptors lived in the Cretaceous Period, not the Jurassic, but that's a bone I have to pick with Steven Spielberg. Plus, no one likes a know-it-all.

Ultimately, I'm happy with my decision to go and get the real fan experience. It's different than what's shown on TV or sold by team marketers, but that ended up being a good thing. It was enjoyable to watch with fans who really care about the game and stay until the end, traffic be damned.

I would recommend going and experiencing it for yourself. Once may be enough for me, but you could be camping out there for every game going forward.

Also, just rename it "Cretaceous Corner" and I promise to stop kvetching.

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