NBA

Raptors raise championship banner to rafters in scintillating pre-game ceremony

Nobody was going to miss this. The normally late-arriving Toronto crowd rushed to their seats. Nearly 40 minutes before the Toronto Raptors opening night tip-off, every seat was taken. A capacity crowd, the 238rd consecutive sellout at Scotiabank Arena, stood and roared.

Toronto players receive largest-ever rings as Canada's 1st title team is honoured

Returning members of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors watch as their 2019 NBA championship pennant is raised during a pre-game ceremony. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Nobody was going to miss this.

The normally late-arriving Toronto crowd rushed to their seats. Nearly 40 minutes before the Toronto Raptors opening night tip-off, every seat was taken. A capacity crowd, the 238rd consecutive sellout at Scotiabank Arena, stood and roared.

Fans didn't stop cheering.

The Raptors players, coaches and support staff made their way to the court. Fans continued to go crazy. The cheers were spine-tingling, ear-splitting and filled with emotion.

WATCH | Lowry unveils Raptors' 2019 championship banner:

Kyle Lowry gathered his teammates to count down to the reveal of Toronto's 2019 NBA Championship banner. 1:22

The arena lights were shut off. When they came back on the Larry O'Brien Trophy sat at centre court, spotlights blasting down on the NBA championship trophy.

A video highlighting pivotal moments during the Raptors historic playoff run played, with the loudest cheers coming for Kawhi Leonard's gravity-defying, bounce-around-the-rim Game 7 buzzer-beating, series-clinching shot against Philadelphia.

Fans just kept clapping and yelling, almost in disbelief that their beloved Raptors are the NBA champions — the feeling so new and foreign.

Commissioner Adam Silver then made his way onto the court.

"Finally, basketball," he said over the loudspeakers. "To the fans in Toronto and Canada, over 50 per cent of this country watched the Finals. Nothing brings people together like sports. Let's give out the rings."

Raptors receive rings in style

One by one, the Raptors ownership group, coaching staff and supporting staff were presented their championship rings. Raptors president Masai Ujiri was introduced, throwing his hands in the air as he walked onto the court to get it, fans screaming 'MVP, MVP,' as he put his ring on.

They roared again for Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who guided the team to victory in his first season at the helm. Then the players got their chance to try on their championship bling.

WATCH | The National's of the Raptors' pre-game celebrations:

Toronto Raptors raise championship banner and receive their rings on the opening night of a new season. 2:04

Norman Powell danced before he got his. Fred VanVleet put his fist in the air as he walked to centre court to get his ring. Pascal Siakam pointed to the sky before putting on his ring.

The longest-serving Raptor Kyle Lowry drew the biggest cheer, as he carefully looked over the ring before putting it on his finger. He never stopped smiling as the fans roared and Lowry showed off his prize to the crowd.

"Such a special night," Lowry said, addressing the fans. "On behalf of my teammates and the organization we want to thank you fans and the great city of Toronto. We wouldn't be able to do this without you."

Kyle Lowry receives his 2019 NBA championship ring from Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Then it was time to reveal the NBA championship banner.

"We got that special thing right there we're about to unveil," Lowry said. He huddled his teammates around him and asked the fans to countdown from five.

Fireworks blasted, We Are the Champions played, and the massive new 2019 World Champion banner, with all the Raptors names etched in the red trimming, was lit up.

A shimmering gold Larry O'Brien trophy sits in the middle of it, the championship banner is now hanging from the Scotiabank Arena rafters — Maple Leafs greats Frank Mahovlich and Wendel Clark banners on one side, Stanley Cup banners on the other.

It was an exquisite affair fit for first-time champions that lasted nearly 30 minutes.

After the thrilling opening night 130-122 overtime victory, Lowry talked about his moment on centre court.

"It just meant the world to me to be able to address the crowd and speak for everyone that has put the time, blood, sweat and tears into this organization," he said. "It meant everything. From the first day I got here the fans welcomed me."

Lowry played an integral role in designing the championship rings and said he had no doubts his teammates would appreciate what he came up with.

"I wanted them to represent the journey that it took to get here because last year took a journey," Lowry said.

"It wasn't one game or two games. It was a long journey from the start of training camp to June 13th. You have to represent that journey because that's what you'll remember. The journey."

Jurassic Park party

More than three hours before tip-off, fans poured into Jurassic Park like they have so many times before to support the Raptors. They danced and cheered and re-lived the championship run all over again.

Toronto Mayor John Tory arrived to greet the fans. So too did the most recognizable Raptors fan — Super Fan Nav Bhatia entered Jurassic Park and couldn't take two steps without being stopped for a selfie.

He's a rock star wherever he goes now, known for having never missed a game.

WATCH | Raptors enter season as defending champs:

The Toronto Raptors open up their season as defending champs on Tuesday night, hosting the New Orleans Pelicans. Canada's team is motivated to defend their title. 1:35

"This is a huge night for all of us. It's a historic night. I'm feeling amazing," Bhatia said, smiling.

"This is the day we've been waiting for. There was always hope that this would happen. We've always wanted this. And finally, we've done it."

A new chapter of Raptors basketball is now underway, and it couldn't be more different from the humble beginnings. When it all started 25 years ago in November 1995, the Raps took to the court inside a cavernous Sky Dome just hoping to be competitive. They weren't. And haven't been until recently.

That's what makes Tuesday night's championship celebration so much sweeter. Because for so much of this franchise's existence being the best seemed so far away.

Now it's here. The Raptors are starting a season as defending NBA champions.

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