The Monday afternoon shooting took place near the City Hall square where the Raptors and government officials, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had assembled, following a parade that was delayed because of massive crowds. Trudeau, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and other players were among those onstage when a host of the event asked the crowd to remain calm while an emergency was “being dealt with,” according to the Associated Press.
The rally continued and Leonard struck a light tone by making a joking reference to his own laugh, which went viral during his introductory news conference with the Raptors in September, after Leonard was traded from the San Antonio Spurs. While en route to the stage Monday, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry encouraged fans to chant “Five more years!” at Leonard, who is set to be a free agent and has the option to sign with another team in July.
A Raptors spokesman told The Post that it was unclear if the players were aware of the nearby shooting while they were onstage.
“Toronto, more than a million of us flooded the streets today to celebrate our Raptors,” city councillor Joe Cressy said on Twitter. “People of all every age, every race, every religion — our City. As awful as the shooting was and terrifying for many in the crowd afterwards, don’t let it take away from our moment.”
Cressy added a hashtag with the Raptors’ slogan, “We the North,” which has been a rallying cry for fans. It was heard often Monday, a date that was officially declared “We the North Day” by Toronto Mayor John Tory.
Fans had flocked to downtown Toronto to celebrate the Raptors’ NBA title, the team’s first in franchise history. Toronto beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals earlier this month. The city had not held a sports celebration of this size since the Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series in 1993. During that parade and rally, fans climbed trees and statues lining the route to get a glimpse of the team. The Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup 13 times, but not since 1967.
Tory said in a statement that “we are all hoping for a quick recovery for those injured this afternoon.” He thanked police and others for their quick response to the shooting.
“It is disappointing and I’m sure a source of anger for more than just me that anyone would carry a gun and discharge it at what was otherwise a joyous celebration,” he said.
The plan for the championship parade had called for it to begin at 10 a.m. and end at around 12:30 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. at Nathan Phillips Square, where the massive rally was held. But the players’ arrival at the square was delayed because of enormous crowds that clogged city streets and impeded the progress of vehicles.
Naturally, Raptors uberfan and rapper Drake was part of the celebration, wearing a jacket emblazoned with “The Best in the World” and a raptor hugging the Larry O’Brien Trophy on one of the double-decker buses carrying players. His plane also performed flyovers above the parade route.
A Toronto native and longtime supporter of the team, Drake reportedly will have a hand in designing players’ championship rings.
Lowry chose to rock a Damon Stoudamire No. 20 jersey for the parade, paying tribute to the first draft pick in the team’s history.
“We did this together,” Lowry said of his team at the rally. “We fought every day, We practiced hard, we worked hard and we just kept our faith.”
Turning to his teammates, Lowry added: “At the end of the day, y’all always going to be my brothers. Always. And we are now world champs — together.”
Guard Fred VanVleet, who played a major role in the Finals win, alluded to the Raptors’ recent history of playoff failures in issuing a challenge to fans.
“You killed us when we got swept two years in a row, so you better celebrate this [expletive] for the rest of the summer, until next year,” he said. “We delivered, now it’s y’all turn to deliver for us. Enjoy it, man.”
That message contrasted somewhat with one delivered before the parade by Raptors Coach Nick Nurse, who urged revelers to party responsibly. Nevertheless, some fans courted danger by climbing arches in the square to get a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings.
Not long after images were shared on social media, officials urged fans to come down. In addition, Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur tweeted that children and people who were having panic attacks were being pulled from the crowd.
By early Monday morning, it was already a scene as fans called in sick and skipped school.
Tory, the mayor, gave Leonard a key to the city, as fans chanted, “Stay! Stay! Stay!”
“You are family, you are one of us, this city and this country love you and we look forward to seeing you and the whole team back to do this again next year," The mayor told the Leonard.
The all-star forward asserted he wasn’t ready to think about his future, saying: “I’m enjoying this. It’s not time to stress. It’s still time to have some fun.”
Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president of basketball operations, thanked his players, as well as the team’s coaching staff, front office, medical staff and ownership.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll win some more in Toronto!” Ujiri said on the stage.
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