NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is notoriously calm, cool and collected, but even he is overwhelmed by the celebration taking place over the Toronto Raptors’ first league championship.
“It’s amazing. Everybody’s out. I don’t believe nobody went in to work today. Look at it. It’s amazing,” said Leonard about the throngs of people lining the parade route Monday.
Tens of thousands of people fell silent as an interview with the star forward that fans desperately hope will sign as a free agent with the Raptors was broadcast at Nathan Phillips Square where a rally is scheduled once the team arrives.
“Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support. We did it,” he said, as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Leonard wasn’t the only player impressed by the reception for the team.
“The ground is shaking. It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words,” said guard Fred VanVleet, who was a clutch shooter for the Raptors down the stretch.
“This is crazy, man… I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know what else to say,” said forward Pascal Siakam.
The next goal is to get another championship in 2020, he said.
“These are the best fans in the world. They deserve it.”
Danny Green said he felt that all 36 million Canadians were celebrating the victory.
“It’s a great feeling. The fans have supported us all year and we try to do the best we can to show as much love back to them. This is our way to trying to do that, giving it back to them.”
Head coach Nick Nurse admitted that he pondered what a victory parade might be like way back last summer. He couldn’t have pictured this result, he said.
“The fans here have helped us a lot,” he said. “When they were singing O Canada in Game 1, you could see the looks on the Warriors’ faces. They knew they had their hands full… they knew the whole country was behind the team.”
Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ long-tenured player, had a tight grip on the championship trophy as he and his teammates took in the massive crowds jamming the parade route. More than three hours into the procession – pegged to take 2.5 hours – the buses carrying the team had just passed the halfway point on the route.
Seas of people flooded the streets, overpasses, rooftops and parking garages to get a view of the parade.
“This is why we wanted to win a championship. This is unbelievable, unbelievable, and we ain’t even close to being done," said Lowry.
Raptors owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is committed to carrying on the winning, too, says Edward Rogers, chair of Rogers Communications and a director of MLSE.
“I want everyone to know that the three of us and everyone are going to do everything we can to not just make this a one year thing but a dynasty. I think we’ve got the makings here to keep this going and to build on this.”