On January 14 I had the opportunity of taking in my first live Toronto Raptors basketball game, which also happened to be my first live professional basketball game as well.

Toronto Raptors fans Air Canada Centre. Photo courtesy of Shaheen Karolia, Wikimedia Commons

Toronto Raptors fans Air Canada Centre. Photo courtesy of Shaheen Karolia/ Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been a Raptors fan for some time, and unlike a considerable amount of bandwagon fans that have jumped on as of late, I remember the likes of Chuck Swirsky, Mo-Pete and Donyell Marshall. That being said, I’ve never had the chance to take in a live Raptors game, so this opportunity was exciting.

Even though the tickets were a Christmas gift I chose to take in a game against the basement-dwelling Philadelphia 76ers, a team with as many losses as the Raptors hadwins. Some may question why I chose this game if the Sixers are so bad, but between wanting to see a Raptors victory and getting cheaper tickets, it just made sense.

I had to make it from Scarborough in East Toronto to the downtown where the Air Canada Centre is located. I’ve made the GO Train trip to Blue Jays games in the city many times, so I can tell you that the station was not nearly as full of game-goers as I’d come to expect. On a summer afternoon, the GO Train station is often full of people in Jays gear heading down to the Rogers Centre to cheer on the hometown baseball team. The Raptors game I went to was on a Wednesday night, in the middle of winter, against a sub-par opponent, but there was still a small group of Raptors supporters on the cold platform.

After a short train ride, I arrived at Union Station, where I exited to see a throng of Raptors supporters on their way into the Air Canada Centre. Upon walking through the doors separating the station and the arena, I entered into the ACC’s fan zone, where young kids could take their shot at basketball and hockey-related games. Kids attempted free throws and tried to score on cardboard Toronto Maple Leafs goalies while their parents watched and waited to hand in their tickets to enter.

After emptying my pockets and getting scanned by a metal detector, I handed over my ticket to be scanned; it took close to five attempts before scanning successfully, which gave me a minor panic attack, but it worked eventually and I was officially into the ACC.

The first things I noticed upon entry were: 1. A Drake-heavy music playlist, and 2. Almost everyone walking around the Air Canada Centre lobby were wearing at least one article of Raptors apparel. Few professional sporting events that I’ve gone to have had a higher percentage of fans wearing exclusively home team gear than the Wednesday night game.

Another tidbit worth mentioning: the Raptors gear that I saw was significantly influenced by team ambassador, Drake. Many fans donned the gold and black garb that is representative of Drake’s OVO (October’s Very Own) brand, and I’d say that it’s quite safe to say that the Toronto-born rapper has had a heavy influence on the Raptors as a team and fan-base.

After grabbing a beer –which was sufficiently over-priced – nothing surprising for a professional sporting event run by Raptors’ team owner, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, I showed my ticket and got ready for my first Raptors game. The seats that we got were in the third row of the upper balcony, which were closer to one end of the court, but it was not difficult to see the play at the other end at any point; for the difference in price, it would be hard to justify sitting closer considering the view from where I sat.

Seconds after we walked in, the Raptors ran out onto the court to more Drake and a loud cheer from all the on looking Raptors fans. Players warmed up, took shots, talked to each other, and stretched out. All eyes were on Raptors star Demar DeRozan, who was returning to the lineup after missing almost two months of play. DeRozan spent nearly the entire warm-up stretching out with one of the team’s trainers, making sure that he was good to go come tip-off.

After a couple minutes of the Raptors warming up, the opposition entered to a smattering of boos from fans, while a choir from a Toronto-area elementary school congregated at centre-court for their renditions of both the American and Canadian national anthems. After a very high-pitched and mostly in-tune singing of the national anthems, the teams spent about ten more minutes warming up prior to tip-off.

Hardly anyone paid attention when the 76ers’ starting lineup was announced, including the Raptors, who continued shooting around while the announcer read off the names of the opposition. But when it came time for Toronto’s starting lineup to be announced, everyone tuned in.

The introductions of the Raptors starting lineup was just as cool as any sports introductions I could think of; everyone was cheering loudly and pumped up for the game that was about to start. Demar DeRozan received a massive ovation upon the announcement of his name, the fans showing their support for their returning star player.

The actual basketball game got off to a great start for the Raptors, as they started the game with a 13-0 scoring run. Fans gave loud cheers when DeRozan touched the ball for the first time, when he scored his first basket of the game, and each time he was subbed in or out of the lineup. After the 13-0 start the game, Toronto never gave up that lead throughout, although the Sixers made it close at times.

The referees received their fair share of boos throughout the game, as Raptors fans voiced their displeasure of Jonas Valanciunas’ five fouls, and a few fouls that they thought were missed on the Sixers. Demar DeRozan ended up leading the charge for the Raptors, scoring 20 points in his return to the lineup; Lou Williams, a former member of the Sixers, racked up 19 points off the bench, while Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson also notched double-doubles. Michael Carter-Williams led the charge for the Sixers, scoring 29 points on the day, but it felt like he scored all 84 for Philly.

The most interesting part of my entire experience took place at the very end of the game, and although this was not exclusive to this sporting event, it always strikes me as odd when this sort of thing happens. The Raptors have a promo with Pizza Pizza, where fans can turn in their ticket for a free slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza the day after the Raptors score 100 points and win.

By mid-way through the fourth quarter, and maybe even before that, it was quite clear that the Raptors were going to be victorious, so fans started anticipating the Raptors reaching that magic 100 points total. With just under a minute to go there were 98 points in the home team’s score column, and Lou Williams dribbled the ball up the court. In unison, the crowd chanted: “Pizza, pizza, pizza!” Williams pulled up and missed a three-point shot attempt, to which the crowd collectively sighed–it appeared as though all hope of pizza had been lost.

The Sixers pushed the ball back down the court to score a quick basket, which left the Raptors with eight or so seconds on the clock. Kyle Lowry accepted the inbound pass and was intentionally fouled by a Philadelphia player, giving him a shot at two free throws and the chance to be the fans’ favourite player of the night. Under the immense pressure of the ‘pizza’ chants, Lowry sank both free throws, prompting a spirited cheer from many excited fans.

The Raptors game was a very cool and fun experience. As to be expected with live sporting events, the concession prices were extremely overpriced, but the merchandise being sold was reasonable. The fan atmosphere was great, especially considering the match-up at hand and the fact that the game was mid-week. The product that the team put out on the court was exciting and engaging, the Raptors won the game and you can’t beat a free slice of pizza.