The Raptors host the Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight, and the "college vibe" of the "Jurassic Park" area outside Scotiabank Arena "makes for one of basketball's best parties," according to Ian Harrison of the AP. For every Raptors home or away playoff game, thousands "gather to watch on the big screen fixed to the arena's west wall." When the Raptors host Game 1 tonight, the party "will get cranked up to a whole new level." The fans who gather at Jurassic Park are "mostly young, in their late teens or 20's, and represent a cross-section of Toronto's broad ethnic diversity." The area has been "so successful" that Toronto suburbs Mississauga and Brampton are "opening their very own versions of Jurassic Park" for the Finals. Fans at Jurassic Park, for safety reasons, are "now split into five distinct viewing areas." The one right outside the arena "boasts multiple food and beverage concessions, even a team store outlet." The area has an "official corporate sponsor, a bank, and there's plenty more advertising plastered around." The official capacity for Jurassic Park is "about 5,000 and crowds start gathering more than five hours before tipoff" (AP, 5/29). GLOBAL NEWS' Ryan Rocca notes there was "already a large line to get into the viewing party outside of Scotiabank Arena" at 6:00am ET this morning. Fans cannot enter Jurassic Park "until 7 p.m., but they were already chanting, 'Let’s go Raptors,' in the early-morning lineup" (GLOBALNEWS.ca, 5/30).
SETTING THE SCENE: In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes the celebration in Toronto "hasn't really slowed down much since Saturday night," when the Raptors clinched their first NBA Finals berth. Half of the city is "wearing Raptors gear" while the other half is "out trying to buy some." Toronto as a sporting city has "never been this excited, this nervous and this frenetic, all at the very same time" (TORONTO SUN, 5/30). ESPN's Nick Friedell said, "I have never seen a city this excited in the moment. ... This city is rocking. It's all anybody is talking about. It's all anybody is focused upon" ("OTL," ESPN, 5/29). ESPN's Doris Burke: "You can walk around the city and feel this incredible amount of joy" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 5/30). The GLOBE & MAIL's Rachel Brady notes this is the first time the NBA Finals "will be played outside" the U.S. The Raptors franchise has "never seen anything like" yesterday's "gigantic gathering of media" on their home court (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/30). Former NBAer Chris Bosh, who played the first seven years of his career with the Raptors, said, "It's amazing just being here back in the city, seeing how much it's grown, seeing how much the fans are thriving" ("GMA," ABC, 5/30).
FOR THE PEOPLE: The CP reported one of Canada's largest theater chains "will be airing" Raptors playoff games for free at 33 cinemas across the country. Toronto-based Cineplex said that it "reached a deal" with Raptors owner MLSEto air the games. MLSE has also "struck deals with 10 cities to set up local versions of Jurassic Park" that has been the "scene of massive celebrations during the team's historic playoff run." The free public broadcasts of the game "will take place in nine cities across Ontario as well as Halifax" (CP, 5/29).
BIG BET PAYS OFF: In Toronto, Bruce Arthur writes everything Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri built "seems almost inevitable in retrospect, but a lot of sports executives kick the can down the road and keep their job rather than roll the biggest dice." Ujiri was "willing to take the risk, and bet on everything he had built here," and he "wound up with an awe-inspiring superstar" in Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors reaching the NBA Finals is "such a big moment for so many." Ujiri has "made it his mission to turn this backwater franchise into a real thing, into something durable and serious" (TORONTO STAR, 5/30). TSN.ca's Josh Lewenberg wrote the Raptors heading into this season were "making more money than ever before," were a "perennial playoff team and would have continued to be with the personnel they had in place." Ujiri had "preached patience for years, sticking with many of the guys he inherited from the previous regime." He "certainly could have opted for the status quo." Lewenberg: "Many others would have. Why rock the boat?" But Ujiri "wanted more" because good "wasn't good enough" (TSN.ca, 5/29).