Fans in Toronto aren’t the only ones preparing to gather en masse to cheer on the Raptors in Game 6 on Thursday night. Satellite Jurassic Parks have popped up across the country and even south of the border, including in one beloved star’s hometown in Illinois.
Inspired by Toronto’s famed outdoor fan zone, officials at the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau organized their own Jurassic Park so fans could cheer on hometown hero Fred VanVleet in the NBA finals.
“We were inspired by the Jurassic Park experience that you’re all experiencing in Toronto and across Canada and thought we had to replicate that here in his hometown,” John Groh, the CEO of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
The Raptors’ point guard began his basketball career playing for his high school’s team in Rockford before attending college. Since then, he has helped the Toronto Raptors reach the NBA finals for the first time in the team’s history.
“It’s certainly been exciting to see Fred be an awesome contributor to his team over the past season and in the finals,” Groh said.
In fact, the residents of Rockford are so excited for VanVleet that they came out in the thousands to the City Market pavilion to watch him play against the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 on Monday night.
“We had about 3,500 people who showed up last night and we expect that number to grow on Thursday night for Game 6,” Groh said on Tuesday. “It was a great big party and a lot of fun.”
The city’s mayor said that despite his success on the court, VanVleet always returns to his hometown to give back to the community that raised him.
“You guys see him as a top, really smart basketball player, really talented basketball player, we see that too, but we also see him as someone who really cares about the community,” Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
The mayor said VanVleet regularly returns to his hometown to visit children in hospitals and speak to teenagers in high schools about social issues, such as dating violence.
“He’s just an incredibly thoughtful, really compassionate young man so we are fortunate to call him ours,” McNamara said.
Groh said VanVleet runs a summer camp every year for children in Rockford as one of the city’s sports tourism ambassadors.
“I think he’s giving back to the community that launched him out into the world,” he said. “We’re just really proud of him.”
As excitement ahead of Thursday night’s game reaches a fever pitch in Toronto and Rockford, Groh said he’s counting on VanVleet’s professionalism to help his team to victory.
“He’s very determined, he’s very focused, he’s hard working, and he has been the underdog, people have not always expected him to rise, but he always rises to the highest levels of play on the court and off and we expect that to continue to be the case for Game 6,” he said.