I lost my love for basketball after attending the raptors parade
I've been watching the raptors for over two decades. I've only been to three games in that period. I didn't have much money growing up and I still don't have much now, but I cherish those memories in the air canada centre, before it was renamed. I've never seen any of the players up close so I convinced my best friend to come along to the parade for what should be a once in a lifetime experience.
12am - Paradiso
We arrived at nathan philips square (nps) at midnight and found seats that gave a great view of the stage, about three to four rows from the front. The weather and atmosphere was amazing, the energy and enthusiasm of the die-hard fans was electric. This was the best part of the whole experience. People discussing basketball, having a laugh, chants fading in and fading out, knock off championship tshirt merchants selling their wares, food, coffee, everything. It was great.
3am to 5am - Purgatorio
I didn't feel like sleeping as the excitement was feeding that need. Hardly anyone else was either. Some had foldable lawn chairs they were comfortably sitting in, others had brought blankets or cardboard, but most were sitting on the concrete floor which wasn't too bad because weirdly the ground wasn't really cold. I sat there on the bare floor thinking of the moments we would experience ahead. Lowry, Kawhi, Spicy P. The Larry O'Brien trophy. As the temperature started to dip a little, these thoughts kept me up. Slowly more and more people trickled in, some trying to get ahead of others already there by finding empty areas to cut in front and stand. No one said anything and minded their own business. Also it was dark and hard to know who exactly was there from before, left to get food, and came back.
5am - Inferno
The morning crew arrived and with them they brought chaos. The noise of the commotion caused people to rush to as close to the stage as they could get, which was barred by a temporary metal fence. People already standing ran in front, people sitting on chairs or laying on blankets were left behind. It was a free for all. Everyone squeezed into the front and made everyone that was sleeping or on chairs get up or risk being trampled. At this point everyone who wanted a good view was standing, there was absolutely no place to sit. This sardine like environment lasted for the whole event. Yes, that means people who you saw at the front of nps close to the stage were standing their since 5am with no chance to sit, lie down, rest, or go to the bathroom.
5:30am - 2 meters
New more robust fences were being placed and the temporary fences were to be removed. Being right next to the fence allowed me to see everything going on. Like a comedy they placed the new fences about six meters ahead of the temp fences, got them set up, tore them down, moved them up two meters, set them up, tore them down, and finally settled on their final position of two meters from the current temp fences. So between the permanent fences and the temporary ones, there was a gap of two meters. As the crew, how do you remove the temporary fences knowing that as soon as you remove one piece of a fence the crowd will gush in like water? Answer: Have a crew member that's good with people work the crowd and ask them not to move, another crew guy hold his position at the end of the temporary fence piece, and two crew members to take the temporary piece away. It goes like this, starting from the rightmost temporary fence piece:
Crew Person A: "This section, please do not move until I say so....."
Crew Person B: Stands in the gap, at the end of the temporary piece holding his arms out
Crew Person C&D: Go in gap and remove the fence
Crew Person A: "ok move"
Crew Person B: Holds his ground so the people rushing in don't overflow into the gap in front of the next temporary fence.
I hope that paints a picture of the technique used. Surprisingly it worked well.
6am to 8am - Waiting
Final stage preparations got underway and we waited for the glory ahead. The stage had two large sound systems and three screens. No video or music was played and the crowd found ways to amuse itself. As an aside, for the remainder of the event, the giant middle screen was never used except for a video when the players arrived on stage. One crew guy was pulling a giant screen behind the video. As he pulled with all his might, the crowd (which now went beyond the TORONTO sign) began chanting PULL PULL PULL. Anytime someone on stage would acknowledge the crowd we would go wild. Almost every crew member got on stage at one time or another and took a selfie with us in the background. Media starting coming in and setting up in front of us to the sides. Chants for news cast members broke out anytime recognizable faces appeared. BRANDON BRANDON BRANDON.
8am to 10:30am - You had one job
I don't know much about djing, but the person on stage doing it was probably the worst I've ever seen. Even after the sounds checks and playing some strange video of silly dunks with the tune of Basketball by lil bow wow, the dj would just stand there doing nothing (idling), playing a few songs, idling, playing some an instrumental sample on repeat for twenty minutes at a time. This lack of presence from the dj continued throughout the event.
10:30am to 12:30pm - Waiting II
Random fireworks from people way in the back would bring everyone in focus again. As far as I could see there were people, everywhere: on the ground, in buildings seeing through windows, on top of buildings (yes literally on the roof of skyscrapers as well). I've never seen anything like this and probably won't ever again. Every place where you could stand was packed. It was absolutely maddening how many people showed up to this thing. Being on the ground in front of the stage we had no idea at the level of the turnout. With such a concentration of people in the same area, no one had cell data that would be any useful. Websites wouldn't load. The icing on the cake was that the crowd had to start a chant to get the organizers to put the parade on the screens. SHOW THE PARADE SHOW THE PARADE SHOW THE PARADE. This chant would appear again about five or six times throughout the event because the video screens would be left idling on a screensaver after a short video of the live parade.
12:30pm to 2pm - No love for the people
There were two or three times where they gave out shirts, flags, miniature towels (do they have a name?), clappers, and those large faces of players printed on cardboard. Most of the stuff were given to people waiting on the side or in the middle. The raptors dances would throw them as far as they could so the people at the front never got in on the shirts. The other items were given mainly to the people on the sides with only a handful to the people at the actual front of the stage. The whole time I as there, they handed out water to maybe fifteen people in the front. That's it. I saw only six or so water bottles given to people dying of thirst, the rest eight or nine in small cups. Anyone not in the front didn't have access to anything. People were fainting, I saw a child being taken over the fence by security, passed out from heat exhaustion. What should have been a cloudy day had lots of sun. I still can't believe the lack of planning for an event like this. This is a world class city, with mlse raking in billions and you packed millions of people in nps like sardines with no food or water for the whole event.
2pm - Stop climbing the arches
Announcements would be made from time to time, for example to ask people to stop setting off fireworks. One such announcement was made to get ten or twelve people off the arches in nps. It took about fifteen minutes for this to happen. The event was put on hold because of it. The clever people on top of the arches would listen, pace a few steps, and start taking selfies again ignoring the orders by organizers. It took boos from the crowd to have any effect on their minds.
3:00pm - VIP
At this moment, the people at the front of the stage have been standing, with no chance to sit, for ten hours. Absolutely packed shoulder to shoulder, no space to place your arm in front of you. This also means that no one has gone to the bathroom for ten hours (more on this later) as you'll lose you're place and have no chance of coming back with such a large crowd (I can imagine the bathroom lines). The players were scheduled to arrive at nps at 12:30pm. The sheer turnout with the streets clogged made the parade slow down to a crawl. It took them five hours to get from exhibition place to nps (in comparison an average car ride from the two locations is ten to fifteen minutes). As the procession came close to nps, the stage events got underway. Some dancing, the national anthem, three rounds of planes flying overhead, and finally the entrance of the team. In this time vip seats were taken in the white chairs that were between the front of the stage and the audience. I don't know who those people were but they came in thirty minutes before the team did, were given food and plenty of water, smiles from the organizers for their just being there. While we the audience looked on without such necessities given to us. They would take selfies with us in the background as everyone privileged enough to be in front of the crowd, in front of the metal fences was doing. The pictures you see with us in the background are of people posing in front of a blanket of human agony, a can of human sardines, a canvas of pain. Ten hours of standing, crammed into nps will do that to you.
3:30pm - The arrival
We caught glimpses of lord Ujiri, of St. Nick before the official unveiling. The prime minister was the only person to come up close to the crowds and greet them, starting from left to right, shaking hands with the people reaching their arms from the front couple of rows. No other player or organization member came close to us. The arrival kicked off with introduction of dignitaries and then speeches and such, accolades given out, a key to the city. Larry's speech was cutoff by a message from Devlin, calming the audience for a situation that had arisen. Looking back now, that event took place behind the TORONTO sign in nps, but we in the front of the stage had no idea what was happening in the back. There was no noise or anything, everything was drowned out by the number of people there. Players and organization members were given time to share a few words, green pitied himself, drake came on for a bit, and then it was over. Just like that. It was actually a bit surreal. The players just sat their on stage looking back at us. Most weren't even smiling or looking like they were happy to be there. Lowry and Kawhi just sat there, shades on their eyes, as serious as if they were in a game being played. Actually most of the players didn't even bother taking their shades off when addressing the crowd, which kind of bothered me. We've been waiting for so long to see you guys, at least show some respect to the fans I thought. Kawhi, probably the loudest the crowd cheered for, gave us only a few words and ended it off with a parody of his laugh. Post game interviews are longer than that. And this was the championship parade finale. Looking back on these thoughts about the players, i was completely wrong in my opinion. They went through a lot 5 hours on the float with families, they were sure to be exhausted as well and done by the time they got to nps. Im sorry if i put anything on the players or organization.
5pm - Leaving
The crowd was hyping itself up with rumors that drake would perform. We got a small speech and his plane. Nothing else was planned and the parade fizzled out like that. Twelve hours of standing and it was over. As the crowd departed, an unlimited supply of water bottles full of urine and trash came into view. The streets were bustling with people making their way home. Three of the nearest subway stations were closed when the event ended. Looking back I was incredibly disappointed for how the day turned out, like a bad taste that would be lingering for a long time. I began questioning why I even went in the first place. Did I like basketball and the raptors so much that I spent seventeen hours of my life waiting to see faces up close that I'd only seen on tv or from far away. Was that all there was to winning a championship until the cycle again for next year? Was that all there was to basketball, to sports?
I don't know right now, but at this very moment I don't think I'll be watching basketball anytime soon. I lost a part of myself attending this parade.
I hope everyone made it back safely.