Shooting near Raptors championship celebration mars jubilant day in Toronto
Published Monday, June 17, 2019 4:24AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 17, 2019 10:15PM EDT
A shooting near the Toronto Raptors championship celebration has left a dark mark on what was meant to be a jubilant party for thousands of fans.
Shots rang out near Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto around 4 p.m. on Monday. Videos from the scene show the massive crowds scrambling to safety.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters on Monday afternoon that four people had been shot, while several other attendees were injured after being trampled. Officers arrested three people in connection with two separate incidents.
“The most important thing was that with all the resources that were here, the apprehensions were done incredibly quickly after the incident itself,” Saunders said.
The celebrations continued despite the shooting, with Raptors announcer Matt Devlin urging the crowd to stay calm.
Prior to the shooting, massive crowds flooded downtown Toronto to celebrate the NBA champions as city officials were forced to close down access to the civic square and shut down a number of downtown subway stations due to overcrowding.
On a couple of occasions, officials had to order people climbing high arches over the square to get down, adding that the Raptors would not make an appearance if they didn’t.
Once the players arrived in Nathan Phillips Square, they were introduced one by one to massive cheers as they tossed souvenirs out to fans.
“This thing is really special because of you people,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told the crowd of thousands. “I’ve never seen anything like the parade and I’m not sure I ever will again. That was really something.”
Kyle Lowry, largely considered the heart and soul of the Raptors, walked onto the main stage holding the Larry O’Brien trophy while wearing a vintage team jersey.
“We fought every day, we practiced hard, we worked hard and we just kept our faith,” he said. “We are now world champs together.”
Before the on-stage celebrations, a parade from the OVO Centre, the Raptors’ practice facility, to the city square was an hour behind schedule because so many people jammed the Princes’ Gate at Exhibition Stadium that the buses carrying the players got stuck.
Eventually, the 16 players rode in on five open-air double-decker buses, waving the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy in the air, smoking cigars and spraying the crowds with champagne.
It had been predicted that as many as two million people would take in the historic celebration of the Raptors’ first league championship. Overhead views showed a sea of humanity jamming streets, off-ramps, balconies and rooftops. Construction workers were spotted packing several storeys of scaffolding.
Team president Masai Ujiri, the man credited with putting this winning team together, seemed overwhelmed by the exuberant crowds as he sat atop a convertible on the parade route alongside his family.
“This is awesome. It’s unbelievable to see so many people,” he said, proudly wearing a Got ‘Em championship T-shirt. “We said we’d win in Toronto. We’ve won in Toronto and we will continue to win in Toronto.”
The massive crowds showered love on the entire Raptors squad, but especially on NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who becomes a free agent June 30. There has been tremendous speculation about whether Leonard will re-sign with Toronto.
Leonard was traded to the Raptors last summer in a blockbuster move with the San Antonio Spurs.
“Thank you all for welcoming me here-- after the trade -- with open arms,” Leonard told the fans. “It made my experience that much better. This group of guys let me do what I do on the floor. Coach Nick let me do what I do and we’ve got a championship.”
Leonard, who turns 28 on June 29, is a native of Los Angeles and has been repeatedly in trade rumours linked to his hometown Clippers. He has relentlessly fended off questions about his intentions as a free agent, saying he was focused on winning a championship.
Under NBA rules, the Raptors can offer more money and a longer term than other teams. Toronto can sign Leonard to a five-year, US$190-million deal, about $50 million more than he could make on a four-year deal with another squad.
Danny Green, who was also sent to Toronto in the Leonard trade, thanked the fans and his teammates for being patient with him during some postseason struggles.
“I really appreciate you guys embracing me with open arms as the other guy in the trade and making me feel at home and allowing me to enjoy this ride and win a championship,” he said.
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet told the crowd to embrace the moment, in part because of the team’s playoff failures in the past.
“This is a very special moment, not only for us as an organization, but for the city, the country of Canada and me personally,” he said.
As the players celebrated on the stage, the thousands of fans watching the party seemed equally excited as “Let’s go Raptors” and “We the North” chants are rippling through the jubilant crowds.
One long-time fan was wearing a homemade Raptors helmet, complete with bared teeth.
“When the Raptors had their home opener on Halloween many years ago I decided to make this,” said Mark, who stood outside Exhibition Place, waving a giant championship flag. “We would always say it’s game day and now we can finally say it’s parade day, which is fantastic.”
Another fan, wearing a vintage purple jersey, says it’s a special time.
“Honestly, I teared up when they won. It was the time of our life and we’re here. We made history, baby.”
The parade included Raptors’ global ambassador and rapper Drake, who flew back from a team celebration in Las Vegas with some of the players on a private plane.
During his address to the crowd, Drake called his time with the microphone “one of the most important” on-stage moments in his life, before calling Toronto “the greatest city in the world.”
“This is a talented, relentless group of guys that put it all on the line and sacrificed everything for each and every one of you this year,” Drake said of the Raptors.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were also on hand for the celebration.
“This was an incredible victory for the Raptors, but for the fans as well, you stood behind those Raptors every day,” Trudeau said. “Win, loss, every single day you showed what Canada is made of.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory has declared Monday “We the North Day” in the city and announced the site of Jurassic Park -- Bremner Boulevard from Lakeshore Avenue to York Street -- would be renamed “Raptors Way.”
“This is just the first of many times we will celebrate here together our beloved Toronto Raptors,” Tory said.
Tory also presented the key to the city to Leonard on behalf of each member of the Raptors.
“Every door in this city is open to you and your teammates,” Tory said. “If you find one that doesn’t open, you call us and we’ll look after it.”
Ratings reports determined that 44 per cent of Canadians watched at least some of the decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday when the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors. It’s the first time the Raptors have won it all and, with all due respect to the Toronto FC of the MLS, it’s the biggest win in Canadian sports since the Blue Jays took the World Series in 1993.
Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia, a fixture at every Raptors home game since the team launched in 1995, served as the honorary parade marshal.
With files from CTV News Channel and The Canadian Press