Toronto Raptors fans in California rallying in numbers ahead of NBA Finals

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Raptors fans living in the San Francisco Bay Area say they’ve have been suffering alone or in small numbers through some of the franchise’s toughest years.

But Toronto’s surge to the NBA Finals has many coming out of the woodwork.

“I think we found more fans now,” said San Francisco transplant Gerardo Agbuya. “I think it’s very cool; everyone’s really proud that Toronto is in the finals.”

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Agbuyo, along his coworker and fellow Torontonian, Jesse Wilks, both moved to San Francisco and have been cheering on the Raptors for years.

They’ve only recently seen more fans show their true colours in the Bay Area.

“I’ve seen a bunch of ‘We the North’ shirts are around, which is pretty cool,” said Wilks. “I think a lot of the people in my office who aren’t from California, they’re now all cheering for Raptors.

He adds that the surge in the number of Raptors fans in the area was most noticeable at a regular season game in December — when the Raptors beat the Warriors in California.

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“In the fourth quarter, all the Warriors’ fans left and all the Raptors’ fans descended down court side and there were thousands of people chanting, ‘Let’s Go Raptors,'” said Wilks.

“I was hugging strangers. It was such a cathartic moment.”

Canadian Justin Alvarado, meanwhile, said he’s seen Raptors fans create a community in San Francisco in recent years.

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“There’s a lot of transplants that come here to work and it’s really cool having a community of Raps fans coming to work,” he said.

“Some of us do get together. There’s Facebook groups and Reddit groups, scheduling meet-ups at various bars and things like that.”

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Another member of that Raptors’ fan club in San Francisco is the Consul General of Canada in San Francisco. Rana Sarkar has never seen a more vocal fan base.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Canadians in the broader region and they have really adopted the Raptors as ‘Canada’s team’ — and so there’s a lot of national support, support for the team itself.”

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But with all that support comes heckling.

Agbuyo and Wilks said getting trash-talked happens regularly while they’re wearing their Raptors jerseys around the city during the finals.

“We both wore our jerseys to work I think everyday this week,” said Wilks, laughing. “You get a few chirps. Even when we’re standing on the corner, a guy was like, ‘Can’t wait to watch you guys lose tonight.'”

Agbuyo adds there’s only one way to get Warrior’s fans to quit their heckling, though: beat their team.

“Being the only team in Canada really brings that support. I don’t think you can match that energy of a whole country rallying against one team.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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