The world is watching: NBA finals a chance to showcase more than sport
As the unmarked bus pulled up, the booing began.
About a hundred people – mostly donning Raptors gear - who had staked out the sidewalk in front of the St. Regis basked in the moment as the Golden State Warriors arrived back at their hotel.
Among them were fans who had pulled out their passports just to be in Toronto for the city's first ever NBA-finals game.
Nick Barucki drove in from Buffalo, N.Y. Thursday morning, mock trophy and a black Sharpie in hand in search of a Steph Curry autograph.
“I just love basketball and obviously he’s a great basketball player. I’ve gotten him before and he seems like a nice guy,” said Barucki.
But the drive-in from Buffalo did not compare to Sidney Tso’s 15-hour flight from Hong Kong - just for the game.
“When they clinched Game 6 for the finals, I told my wife,” he told CTV News Toronto. “She just looked at me, and she said, you’ve got to go!”
He was on a flight the next day.
The international guests are just a fraction of the global audience with eyes on Toronto, said Tourism Toronto Vice-President Andrew Weir.
“Because of the popularity of basketball, and the NBA in particular, in places like China, Brazil, Mexico and Europe, that really plays well to our strength as a city,” said Weir. “More and more people seeing the city in a great positive way this week.”
International media descended on the city to showcase it abroad on Thursday. Good Morning America host T.J. Holmes wished U.S.-viewers a bright hello “from the north.”
Holmes told CTV News Toronto he was thrilled with the reception from Raptors fans.
“People [here] are happy to see you, and they want to talk to you, and they’re excited to be a part, to have Toronto - the city and the team - on this type of elevated stage.”
Weir says that elevated stage is Toronto’s time to shine - because NBA games have become about so much more than just sport.
“It’s a pop culture event,” he said. “It’s a very unique and important opportunity for the city.”