Toronto Raptors player Chris Boucher showed off the 2019 Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy to some lucky fans in Montreal North on Friday.
A large crowd of basketball players and fans got the chance to see the iconic NBA hardware up close and take photos with the newly crowned NBA champion.
The Saint Micheal native celebrated with fans on the same courts in Carignan park where he once played pickup games.
The cheering crowd gave the hometown player a hero’s welcome.
“I tell you, it feels good,” Boucher said. “I could have came back as a regular guy but I came back as a champion.”
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“This is really an important moment that I will remember all my life,” he told reporters before being bombarded by requests for photos and autographs from fans.
The six-foot-10 Boucher encouraged young people to find their passion and believe in themselves.
“There are so many young people here who are talented and want to excel in life, so if I can be an example for them to keep pushing, then why not?”
His former coach, Ibrahim Appiah, confirmed it was Boucher who asked for the public gathering.
“He told me he wanted to come to Montreal North because it’s very important for him to give back to the community,” Appiah said.
“He understands the impact he can have on young people in his current position.”
Wilman Edouard of the Club de basketball Montreal-Nord, who remembers watching Boucher play on the neighbourhood’s outdoor courts, sees him as a symbol of hope and resilience for young people.
“When we talk about equal opportunities and social inequalities, basketball succeeds in rebalancing things and getting young people to live with hope,” he said. “This is what Mr. Boucher has just demonstrated.”
For Ricardo Telamon, co-ordinator of the basketball program at Henri-Bourassa high school, Boucher’s visit reinforced the message he gives his young student-athletes.
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“There, they see that the dream is possible, because here is a guy from Montreal North, who played on this court, who grew up here and who succeeded,” he said. “That makes all the difference, because my message is real for them now.”
Raphael Constant, a member of Henri-Bourassa’s provincial champion Rams, said the success of Boucher — and of another Montreal North product, Luguentz Dort, who has just signed his first professional contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder — gives him added motivation.
In response to a question from the crowd, Boucher said that after his injury in his final year with the University of Oregon, and again after he was released by the Golden State Warriors at the end of the 2018 season, he thought his career was over.
“I used those moments, where I felt weak and where I felt I could not do it, to come back stronger,” he said.
— With files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines