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Drake Turns Raptors’ Celebration Into a Million-Person Hugfest

Karen Bliss

Drake chugged a can of beer that was tossed to him, did interviews, and signed merch along the Toronto Raptors victory parade route Monday, but when the NBA champions arrived at Nathan Phillips Square hours later — the procession’s final destination, where an estimated million people had gathered on the grounds and outskirts —  the team’s global ambassador let the players, coaches and execs take the spotlight for most of the onstage ceremony.

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mayor John Tory, Raptors president Masai Ujiri and others — and, of course, the Raptors themselves — spoke, Drake capped the celebration, calling the 2019 Larry O’Brien Trophy winners “a talented, relentless group of guys that put it all on the line and sacrifice everything for each and every one of y’all this year.”

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“I want you to know that these moments are few and far between,” said Drake, decked out in an OVO “best in the world” jacket adorned with his owl logo, Canadian flag, trophy and year, and wearing a backwards “championship” ballcap.

“Today, I know you’ll get on your phone and you’ll look at your pictures and you’ll look at the clips online, whatever outlets post, but right now, this is what I want you to do,” said the rapper. “This is what I do at shows that are really important. And this is one of the most important moments I’ve ever been on stage (for) in my life,” he added, drawing out his request.

“So this is what I want you to do. I want you to turn to somebody that you don’t know and I want you to give them a hug. I want you to tell them ‘Congratulations, because we’re from the greatest city in the world and we are the NBA 2019 champions of the world.’ Makes some noise for the Toronto Raptors. Give somebody a hug today.”

The camera then caught exactly that, the crowd of thousands turning to one another to give them a hug; even some Raptors joined in. It was maybe a pretty hippie thing to ask of people who had waited in the hot sun for hours, with little access to water and facilities, but it is Canada.

“That’s what I like to see. I like to see all that love,” Drake said, before asking for one more round of noise for the Raptors and staff. (Few were aware that a shooting had taken place at the rear of the crowd, which sent fans scattering and landed two in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.)

Then he went in for the plug: “I hope that all these guys will join me this year because we’re bringing OVO Fest back, so I hope we can all go crazy.”

Earlier on the parade route, another estimated million people lined the streets as the parade began on the Exhibition Place grounds, then wound very slowly to Nathan Phillips Square and City Hall.

The Raptors, along with their friends and family, rode in open-air double decker buses; Drake had a float; super-fan/parade marshal Nav Bhatia made the trip in a golf cart; and Masai Ujiri and head coach Nick Nurse greeted fans from convertibles.

“This city is flooded right now. You can’t even describe this,” Drake told one interviewer in a clip broadcast on the giant video screens at Nathan Phillips Square, as the crowd patiently awaiting their arrival.

“I try my hardest when it comes to music, but like I’ve said, in my own songs before, we don’t have any definitive award that lets you know that you achieved the goal that you set out to achieve,” said Drake, who’s had his famous issues with music awards shows in the past. “Sports is different.

“This is what our city is about. It’s crazy. I just had somebody throw something up here and I signed it and [as the float kept moving] now he was so far away I threw it to somebody else and they walked it back to him. And that is a testament to our city. That’s what we’re about.”

 

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