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COMMENTARY: Why ‘bandwagon fans’ are actually a good thing

Fan reaction from First Ontario Centre the moment the Raptors win their first NBA Title
Fans erupt in Hamilton as the Raptors down the Golden State Warriors in 6 games for their first NBA title ever.

Basketball fever has brought an undeniable electric energy to Toronto and the entire nation, culminating in an explosion of euphoria last night when the Toronto Raptors took the title of NBA Final Champions.

With each game bringing us one step closer to that historic championship win, we saw more fans jumping on the Raps bandwagon; with a record high of 59 “Jurassic Park” viewing parties across the country from Regina to Halifax and everywhere in between.

A recent Angus Reid Institute Poll showed a large increase in the number of both male and female casual fans paying attention to the Raptors. Of the 780 females surveyed, while only 10 per cent normally follow the NBA, 33 per cent of those women said they are following the NBA Finals.

For the first time in Canadian history, we have given the NBA finals almost equal interest to the Stanley Cup finals — and for a “hockey nation” that speaks volumes.

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READ MORE: Fans celebrate across Canada as Raptors capture first-ever NBA title

Growing up, I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body and found watching sports just as painful as playing. But three years ago, I jumped on the bandwagon and have been watching basketball regularly since. And this wild post-season ride, my husband and I watched every game together, sometimes even my brother, parents, in-laws and wee ones in tow, too.

We even claimed superstitious sides of the couch to sit on — and had a ceremonial post-game “double-high-five-hug-it-out” routine that could not be missed. Superstition is big for sports fans. I’m starting to get it — and I’m starting to have a real appreciation for a game I knew very little about a few short years ago.

Euphoria is contagious — let it spread

But I understand the die-hard fans who have stuck by their team through the highs and many lows, who may feel a sense of being robbed of their moment. However, I think if you are a true sports fan, you also know that this kind of positive energy is too good to keep to yourself. The sense of pride, community and euphoria spreading is contagious, in the best way possible, and to that, like the sentiments of my good friend Nav Bhatia, I say the more the merrier.

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Everyone won’t necessarily fall in love with the sport, but some certainly will become more passionate about it.  And doesn’t it just feel good striking up a conversation waiting in line at the supermarket, on the subway, heck at the nail salon — talking to strangers and bonding in a moment — that isn’t about politics, differences or divides, or drenched knee-deep in negativity.

In my opinion, even though it is an affordable, accessible sport, and maybe precisely for that reason, it is one that has been overlooked for far too long. If the bandwagon fans are helping make basketball one of Canada’s national treasured sports, I’m all for it because this win is truly a full circle moment of significant magnitude. After all, the sport itself was invented by a Canadian — Dr. James Naismith, a physical educator, from Almonte, Ont., a small town outside of Ottawa.

WATCH BELOW: Toronto Raptors feel the love of their hometown fans

6 in 6: Toronto Raptors feel the love of their hometown fans
6 in 6: Toronto Raptors feel the love of their hometown fans

A New Generation of Fans

One of the best things about bandwagon fans is that it exposes them to the sport and may ultimately draw them in for the long haul. Nobody starts as a die-hard fan, it’s a process. Seeing so many children catch Raptors fan fever has probably been the most exciting. No doubt this monumental post-season will inspire more kids to get out and play themselves.

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My seven-year-old started paying attention when the Raptors were playing Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. He was part of that short-lived bandwagon, but getting caught up in the excitement of the game made him quickly fall in love with it.

A few months later, he asked for a ball and net for the driveway. Soon he was shooting hoops every night and this spring joined his first league, with his last game serendipitously landing the same day as Game six of the NBA final. He came home with two medals, one for being the most improved player on the team. Grinning ear to ear, he said, “Mommy, you know Danny Green has really improved, too. I’m going to be Raptor one day.”

Big dreams for a little kid, but I’ll take that energy, determination and drive any day.

And it isn’t just a new generation of young fans. My 72-year-old parents jumped on that same bandwagon a few years earlier. Now my Indian mom can rattle off basketball stats better than most “legit” fans I know, and I think she would make one heck of a commentator, riotously mixing her love for Indian cooking with her love for the sport.

WATCH BELOW: Raptors fans and championship merchandise, everyone wants a piece of history

Raptors fans and championship merchandise, everyone wants a piece of history
Raptors fans and championship merchandise, everyone wants a piece of history

Econ 101 in the 6ix

From merchandising, restaurants, bars to the hotel industry and beyond, the bandwagon fans have also played a significant role in the spike to our local economy.

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In early June, during the Eastern Conference Finals, it was estimated that transactions were up by 28 per cent to as high as 76 per cent across the GTA between pre- and post-game hours, according to Moneris, a credit- and debit-processing firm. I only imagine those numbers to have risen in relation to increases in crowds over the last two weeks.

And then there is the tourism factor as Toronto has been thrust into the international spotlight, the trickle effect of increased tourism will be felt for a long time to come.

READ MORE: Raptors NBA Championship victory parade planned for downtown Toronto on Monday

Beyond Basketball

Reflecting on the players on this team, I have a sense in pride that we are rooting for something bigger than basketball.

From Pascal Siakam’s story from Cameroon to Canada, to Kawhi Leonard’s constant show of grace, humility and calm under fire — the players on this Raptors team are not just elite athletes and now NBA champions, they are incredible people who serve as great role models for ourselves and children.

In particular, I think of some of the thoughts Kyle Lowry shared on pressure in a press conference last week, leading up to this NBA finals win. 

Being able to provide for me and my brother, my family, that’s pressure,” Lowry said describing how his mother and grandmother raised his family growing up. “Just the willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that your kid will see better than what you’ve ever seen, and getting up and taking public transportation an hour and a half away. People like that are heroes to me.

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Such thoughtful perspective takes us past the game to what unites us as everyday people, not what divides.

Bandwagon, casual or lifelong fan, you can’t help but smile knowing that’s what you are cheering for.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.