The Toronto Raptors have become a national sensation as they compete in the NBA Finals for the first time ever, but has the fever reached Montreal?
About 100 eager Montreal basketball fans lined up at Place d’Armes on Monday for the chance to win a trip to California to watch the Toronto Raptors play the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the finals.
West Islander Joseph Azam screamed in celebration when he won the contest set up by the NBA and Google.
“It’s nice to have something besides hockey people are getting excited about,” Azam told Global News.
He has both feet firmly planted on the Raptors’ bandwagon, and is far from the only one.
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“The Raptors right now are opening up basketball for Canada,” said Junior Ford, another Montreal basketball fan who had come for the contest.
“We cheer for the Raptors even though it’s a Toronto team,” said Montrealer Kevork Kazezian.
One sign that Raptors’ enthusiasm is significant in Montreal: sports bars are filling up for the games.
“It’s been busy,” said Sam Chaudhry, who owns McLean’s Pub. “It’s not like the Canadiens, but people do come.”
“We have locations where people are watching the games without a seat. They’re waiting in line to get a seat in Montreal, Laval, Gatineau,” said Jean Bedard, the president of Cage – Brasserie Sportif.
Bedard said that in his 25 years with the company, this is the first time basketball has packed the Cage.
RDS reporter Jean-Luc Legendre, who was at Place d’Armes to cover the trip contest, told Global News 300,000 people are watching each Raptors game on TV in French.
“The ratings are overwhelming. It’s 10 times better than what we had in the regular season,” he said.
But some Montrealers couldn’t care less.
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“I don’t really like basketball that much,” said Nick Mak.
“Here, they are more into hockey,” said Stephanie Caguazango, a native of Colombia.
The lack of enthusiasm from some Montrealers sometimes makes big-time fans feel lonely.
“It’s kind of disappointing when we’re in the finals and nobody else is as excited,” said Niagara native John Wolfe.
Forty Canadian cities have launched outdoor viewing parties to join Torontonians in cheering on their team.
“Every other city has started their own Jurassic Park, but Montreal hasn’t done anything,” said Katie Teng.
Saskatoon and Halifax are among the cities that have started their own viewing parties, so why not Montreal?
“It’s probably because it’s so cold,” guessed Rene Charbonneau.
“To be honest, I think they’re lacking Raptors fans,” said Teng.
Everyone who spoke to Global News at Place d’Armes on Monday said they would happily go to a Montreal Jurassic Park.
“It’d be cool to have it here in this square! I’d go!” said Camille Charbonneau.
A city spokesman said talks are underway to get a Montreal Jurassic Park going. If that happens, Montrealers will be able to show just how deep the fandom here goes.