That night, the ACC was the loudest I've ever heard it for a regular season game. I've been covering the Raptors
in some way/ shape/ form since their second year. This is my 11th year doing the pre, half and post on the radio. I've been to every game that's been played at the ACC. So I've seen a lot of basketball and been through the highs and lows of this team.
But last Friday was special.
What impressed me the most was the pre-game noise. During the game, I've almost come to expect the chants of "Let's go Raptors" and "De-Fence"; the crowds in Toronto have been vocal for years – even if it's a product of being prompted by the big board sometimes. But when the Raps came running out of the tunnel on Halloween – before the national anthems were sung – the roof nearly came off the ACC. The fans were jacked.
The noise continued right through the warm-up and the anthems and then it hit another level during the player intros – especially for Chris Bosh
and Jermaine O'Neal. The electricity in the air was incredible.
That energy was sustained for most of the game as well, and you – the fans – deserve a ton of praise for that.
Trust me when I tell you that your passion and support for your team far exceeds anything I saw in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The Raptors
were a part of three home openers last week (including their own) and the fans in Toronto were certainly the loudest and proudest.
The Sixers announced a crowd of about 17,000 but the upper bowl was half-full. There wasn't 17,000 in attendance. Not even close.
Granted, last Wednesday the Phillies were wrapping up the World Series in their rain-delayed game against the Rays, but I was still surprised how few fans were in attendance, considering the optimism that surrounds the 76ers right now and following their big off-season signing of Elton Brand.
In Milwaukee, the situation was worse. Despite offering upper bowl tickets for only $10 for all games in November and December, the Bucks announced a crowd of just over 15,000 folks. But, again, that number was inflated. I'd guess 12,000 at best. People must be taking the wait-and-see approach in Cheeseland.
That just makes what went down in Toronto all the more impressive.
For all the flack T.O. gets sometimes for (a) being the only franchise in the NBA outside of the United States, and (b) for being a supposed "hockey town,” you the fans are sending a message to the league – loud and clear – that the Raptors
are legit; they're certainly not small-market; and the fan-base is for real. This city and country may have been built on ice and pucks, but a new generation is growing up – for the first time – with a basketball team in their own backyard and their passion for that team already rivals (and sometimes exceeds) the hockey crowds.
Plus, attendance in Toronto has been solid for years. Even in the dog days – just a few short years ago – the Raptors
were still drawing crowds of 17,000-18,000+ every night. Teams around the league would die to have that. Heck, other franchises would probably sell their soul get what Toronto had last year: 32 sellouts.
You've made the ACC a tough place to play in. It's loud. It's proud.
And players take notice of jam-packed arenas too. They don't want to play in half-empty arenas with disinterested fans. Look back at the expression on Jermaine O'Neal's face on Friday night and tell me he wasn't thrilled with what he was experiencing in T.O.
So don't get down when you hear ignorant comments from folks like Chris Webber... talking about the "tax situation" in Toronto (which isn't legit) and don't stress out about not having as many games as other organizations on TNT or ESPN. Despite what you think, Toronto is on the NBA map and it's recognized as one of the model franchises in the league.
You're all a big part of that.