It’s been a while, but the Raptors haven’t forgotten how to rock the Scotiabank Arena.
Six hundred days after the team last played at their home venue – a relatively forgettable loss to the Charlotte Hornets on the final day of February 2020 – the festivities surrounding Wednesday’s season opener almost made it feel like the team would never Went.
City’s new favorite Raptors and Toronto’s top draft pick Scotty Barnes said Tuesday, “Can’t wait to bring a lot of energy to that packed house, in front of the crowd, in front of the crowd.”
He was not alone.
Of course things had changed from February 2020. Last time there were no masked faces, no announcements that reminded attendees to follow health and safety protocols, no thanks to the thousands of people who died due to the COVID-19 virus for attending games had to be fully vaccinated against.
Longtime point guard Kyle Lowry also wasn’t on Toronto’s roster for the first time since 2012, so it was Fred VanVleet who stepped on the mic when a raucous pre-game celebration cleared some smoke.
“It’s good to be at home,” VanVleet said when the applause finally stopped.
The party was mostly before the game, with the Raptors trailing during a 98–83 loss to the Washington Wizards.
Outside the Scotiabank Arena a few hours before tipoff, there were only signs of what was to come. The typical crowd that gathered at Jurassic Park a few hours before game time was non-existent due to the COVID-19 restrictions. But eventually the lines were drawn, with fans from across the country arriving to welcome their team back to home soil. Some seats remained available on Ticketmaster and resale sites as the game began, but the Raptors announced a sales crowd of 19,800.
Fully vaccinated fans, including Olympic champion decathlete Damien Warner, were greeted by black “We Back” T-shirts in their seats and red “We the North” signs on their assigned seats, who had landed on expensive tickets for the night. Went. If hawk-eye is enough, there was a glimpse of Drake, the Raptors’ global ambassador, in his courtside seat beside head coach Nick Nurse.
A loud and proud Canadian national anthem performed by the familiar voice of Doug Tranquada, later recited by spoken word artist Hannah Flores, was followed by a provocative video on the Raptors’ homecoming. Fans and first responders also joined the video welcome wagon. Toronto-born rapper Cardinal Official danced in the seats with his Raptors-filled song Pre-Game.
They were back. There were more moments. Nearly half-court by Rexdale native Delano Banton defeated the buzzer to end the third quarter, the rookie’s first NBA basket. The Raptors run 10-0 in the fourth quarter.
The Scotiabank Arena has seen some electric home openers in recent years, what happened with the arrival of Kawhi Leonard in 2018 and the championship ring ceremony that preceded the first game of 2019.
No stars or rings were involved on Wednesday night, but the celebration of something close to the normalcy of the game for the Raptors and their fans was a significant highlight in its own right.
The poet Flores said, “The city left a light in its heart for the day our team comes home.” “Missed to be home for 19 months, now the Raptors are standing at Toronto’s doorstep with a No. 1 mindset.”