Toronto is now grappling with the fallout.
Nav Bhatia, the so-called Raptors superfan who has attended every home game since the club began play 24 years ago, said he has never witnessed such dreadful fan behavior in Toronto.
“That’s not how Canadians are,” Bhatia said. “I don’t know if fans knew [Durant] was hurt badly. Maybe that’s what the fans thought. But whatever it is, I’m really ashamed and I apologize on behalf of the fans who were there.”
The fallout spread across North America, and there was a good amount of self-flagellation on social media and on Toronto sports talk radio for much of Tuesday.
Bob McCown, host of “Prime Time Sports,” Canada’s leading sports talk radio show, did not hold back his disgust Tuesday.
“Quite frankly, it was embarrassing,” McCown told listeners. “I’m embarrassed by it. I’m afraid that this is a legacy that will linger for some period of time, that people are going to bring this up in the future even in unrelated events, even in non-sporting events.”
But after the initial negative reaction, a broader picture emerged of the sequence of events that, for many, has salvaged some of Toronto’s pride.
Taking a cue from Raptors players who gestured with their arms to quiet the cheers, the crowd turned the emotion around by saluting the two-time NBA Finals MVP with supportive chants of “KD” as he was escorted off the court with the help of his teammates.
Former Raptors player Alvin Williams, who worked the game Monday as an analyst for Sportsnet, said he was “disappointed” at first by some fans’ reaction. But, he said, fans were well aware of Durant’s status as perhaps the best player in the game and having him return from a nine-game absence after a calf injury made him Public Enemy No. 1 in Toronto.
When he dropped 11 points in the first quarter, fans feared the worst for this championship-hungry city. And leading up to the injury, the 6-foot-9 Durant made himself even more of a villain by getting into a fiery exchange with undersized guard Fred VanVleet near the basket.
Williams suggested that fans are fans wherever you go.
“I'm from Philly, and I remember when Michael Irvin for the Dallas Cowboys was practically paralyzed in a game against the Eagles and they cheered,” Williams said by phone from San Francisco, where he will work Game 6 on Thursday.
“The fans are cheering for their home team,” Williams said, “and the narrative behind everything was that if Kevin Durant comes back, there is no chance for the Raptors. Once he goes down, the initial thought was probably, 'Yes, we've got a chance.' Once everything sunk in, they figured it out.”
Veteran Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons took to Twitter to complain that a few “idiots” tainted everyone else. “If 3,000 people were cheering the Durant injury initially and 16,000 weren’t,” he wrote, “is that a commentary on Toronto or a commentary on 3,000 idiots?”
Canadian fans, of course, have a reputation for being polite and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” even built a segment around that theme earlier in the series by sending a camera crew to Toronto to ask Canadians to trash-talk the Warriors. Of course, they couldn’t do it.
Ray Ratto, a sportswriter from San Francisco, said that the issue is one of perception that Americans think Canadians are unfailingly polite in all situations.
“The fact is Canadian sports fans are like every other sports fan,” Ratto said. “When they think it’s a cool thing to boo, they will boo. If a guy goes down and gets hurt, some of them are going to say, ‘This is good for me.’ ”
Still, this was not the first time that Toronto sports fans have placed themselves in a negative light.
An ugly incident made headlines in 2016 when a fan at a Blue Jays wild-card game threw a can of beer at Baltimore Orioles left-fielder Hyun Soo Kim, narrowly missing him. This spring, Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk said he received death threats from Maple Leafs fans on social media during their first-round playoff series.
In response to Monday’s scene, Toronto-area resident Hamzah Moin set up a Go Fund Me account with a goal to raise $25,000 to support the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, which helps at-risk youth. As of Wednesday morning, about $2,500 had been pledged.
And one anonymous Canadian sent a floral display to the Warriors’ offices to apologize “on behalf of Canada,” NBC Sports reported.
Stephen Curry, the superstar guard of the Warriors who grew up in Toronto when his father, Dell, played for the Raptors for three seasons from 1999-2000 to 2001-2002, said he was “very confused” by the fans’ reaction Monday.
“I’ve lived here,” Curry said postgame. “I really enjoyed the people and their passion and excitement. It’s not my experience with people in this city. I just hope that ugliness doesn’t show itself again as we go forward in this series.”