‘Every door to the city is open to you’: Toronto Raptors given key to the city at victory rally
To the chants of “MVP,” Toronto Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard took the stage at Nathan Phillips Square to receive the key to the city on behalf of his team.
The key was presented to the team at a massive victory rally held on Monday afternoon, the culmination of a five-hour parade held to mark the first NBA championship title for the Raptors.
Wearing his self-described “lucky” gold and black Raptors blazer, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he hopes the key will inspire the team to “many repeat” performances.
“What you have accomplished together is deserving of the highest honour this city can offer,” Tory said.
Tory called up “the King of the North” to receive the physical key on behalf of the team.
“You are family, you are one of us, this city and this country love you and we look forward to seeing you and the whole team back to do this again next year,” Tory said of Leonard, who becomes a free agent next season and has not yet to confirm if he will remain with the team. “Every door to this city is open to you and your teammates and if you find one that doesn’t open, you call us and we will look after it.”
The mayor also said the city will be renaming a portion of Bremner Boulevard “Raptors Way.”
Tory was just one of numerous dignitaries present at the victory rally at Nathan Phillips Square, which was scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., but was delayed by three hours. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford, and the team's global ambassador Drake were all onstage to celebrate with the team.
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse took to the stage briefly, saying with a hoarse voice that “I think it was Bono who said ‘the world needs more Canada.’ The world just got it."
Eager fans began lining up overnight to help welcome back the team after they defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. By the time the parade commenced at 10 a.m., the streets of the downtown core were filled with fans sporting Raptors apparel, signs and cheers.
“It’s amazing,” Leonard said. “Everyone is out – I don’t believe anyone went to work today. Just look at it, it’s crazy.”
“The last few days have been amazing – no sleep, a lot of celebrating and we going to keep going.”
Standing on top of an open double-decker bus surrounded by teammates and overlooking about two million elated fans, Leonard thanked Toronto for its support.
The 27-year-old already has one championship title under his belt from his time with the San Antonio Spurs, but he said this time around is different.
“It’s a different unit, different organization, we in a different city, a different country and I’m older and it makes it that much better,” he said.
“Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support. We did it!”
The win for the Raptors marks the first time a Toronto team has won a major professional sports championship since the Blue Jays won the World Series back in 1993.
The celebratory parade began on the grounds of Exhibition Place before it moved east on Lake Shore Boulevard then turned north onto York Street and University Avenue. The parade ultimately headed east on Queen Street West ending in Nathan Phillips Square for the rally.
Rally paused briefly after shooting at Nathan Phillips Square
As the Raptors took the stage at Nathan Phillips Square to celebrate their NBA championship win, gunshots rang out nearby.
Fans at the back of the massive crowd scrambled to safety after hearing a gun go off, causing people to flee.
According to police, four people were injured in the shooting.
The incident didn’t stop the celebrations. After a short break in which the crowd was informed of “an emergency situation,” the festivities continued as planned.
The square reached capacity around noon
At around noon, the City of Toronto said the square had reached capacity and no one else was allowed to enter the area.
Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia kicked off the parade as the honourary parade marshall.
While cruising down the route, he said the crowd of fans filled with different ethnicities and ages represents “what Toronto is and what Canada is.”
“That is the beauty of basketball, bringing the world together.”
Bhatia said the Raptors players attending the parade “get the pride and get the satisfaction, which they are not going to get anywhere else in the world.”
“This is amazing. This is what we deserve. We have brought all of Canada together.”
President of the team Masai Ujiri followed Bhatia with his family in a convertible before Bobby Webster, the general manager of the team, followed with his family.
Ujiri said the Raptors “represent the world.”
“That’s what we said to the NBA. That’s why they had to pay attention to Toronto and they had to pay attention to the only team that’s outside the States,” he said. “We wanted to be an example, an example not only for America, but an example for all around the world and that’s what we’re about in Toronto.”
“We said we would win in Toronto, we won in Toronto and we will continue to win in Toronto.”
Nurse then headed down the parade route with his family followed by Wayne Embry, senior basketball advisor for the Raptors, and his wife.
Ten vehicles filled with the Raptors coaching staff and their families then proceeded along the route.
Ahead of the parade commencing, Nurse told waiting fans to “have a great time, but be safe.”
The parade lineup then continued with Drake in his own float followed by five open top double-decker buses carrying Raptors players with their friends and family members.
Those who could not get a spot at Nathan Phillips Square were encouraged by the city to attend a viewing party being held at Coronation Park on Lake Shore Boulevard.
The following road closures were put into effect as of 9 a.m.:
- Bay Street between Dundas Street and Richmond Street West.
- Queen Street West between Yonge Street and University Avenue.
- Chestnut and Elizabeth Streets will be fully closed.
- Armoury Street will have restricted access
- Eastbound exit ramps from the Gardiner Expressway for Spadina and York-Bay-Yonge
After declaring Monday “We The North” day, Mayor John Tory encouraged Toronto employers to allow their employees to take off some time to celebrate the event.
A fly-by from the Royal Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds took place over Nathan Phillips Square on Monday afternoon.
The city advised those attending the parade to take public transit.
“If you’re coming down to celebrate, whether it’s at Nathan Phillips Square or to take in the parade anywhere along the route, leave the car at home,” City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross said Sunday.
“Take public transit – you’re guaranteed to get there instead of sitting in traffic.”
Several TTC routes will also be on diversion as a result of the festivities:
- 5 Avenue Rd
- 6 Bay
- 29 Dufferin
- 121 Fort York-Esplanade
- 501 Queen, 504 King
- 509 Harbourfront
- 510 Spadina
- 511 Bathurst.
- 510 Spadina will not be available at Union Station
Osgoode, Queen and Dundas subway stations were shut down due to overcrowding at street level, but have since reopened.
Go Transit previously said that all regular routes will be running Monday and Union Station will remain open.