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“Get down!” the policeman screamed, and as Larry Tanenbaum spoke from stage at City Hall on a championship celebration we should have remembered forever, that was all that I heard.
The voice repeated itself louder and more officiously as bodies were crunching together below the cement wall on the elevated catwalk at Nathan Phillips Square, bodies piled beside and on top of each other, people with fear in their eyes, hoping for the best.
This wasn’t the day anyone envisioned for the Toronto Raptors’ victory parade and celebration. This wasn’t the grand time anyone had realistically hoped for. Four people were shot. At least four bullets had been fired outside the Square, probably more. A lot of people, running to get away, got trampled on.
Across the street, at the Sheraton Hotel, the Queen St. doors were closed due to a “police investigation.” At the BBN restaurant in the lobby, the doors were locked shut so those injured could be assessed and attended to.
And before the eventual evacuation of the upper level at Nathan Phillips, there was mostly panic and certainly confusion. The words from the stage seemed muffled and unimportant. The words from the stage, from management and players, lacked the usual parade silliness, and it all seemed appropriately lost in confusion. There wasn’t a Brett Hull to be found anymore, which was probably a good thing.
This was the day of the unexpected — and a day that, once upon a time, seemed to be anything but Toronto. You don’t expect to take a young child to a sporting parade and wind up separated from them in all the running, falling and confusion.
But, over time, this city has entered that real world —things that didn’t used to happen here, happen here now and far too regularly — and, by the end of the afternoon, a botched parade seemed rather insignificant in the big picture when compared to public safety.
The Raptors won a championship on talent and precision and execution and, from a variety of impressive levels, organization.
Then came the parade, and it was about everything the Raptors haven’t been.
The parade lacked execution, precision and organization. There’s nothing much anyone can do about a crazy person and a gun. That’s our world.
But MLSE or the City of Toronto or whomever was charged with putting on this almost-great day, ran three hours behind in the schedule, packed too many people into the Square without access to water or food, didn’t properly place barriers on the streets, gave too much access to fans, offered no visible entertainment of any kind to its fabulous fan base, didn’t properly utilize the large video screens in the Square and turned a 7-km drive into more than five hours of bedlam.
That couldn’t have been the plan, could it? How could they have missed on so many notes? The Raptors aren’t just the talk of the basketball world. Their fans are the talk, as well. Somebody — maybe MLSE, maybe the city, maybe whoever it was who was advising — messed up here. It’s possible.
But to have a parade on a beautiful June day in a packed place without access to water, without access to food, with difficult access to washrooms, with nothing at all entertaining, with broken-down technology, with nothing viable on the giant screen, without nothing to excite a crowd there to be excited … All of that is simply unacceptable, just as it was unacceptable for the Raptors not to comment on the events of the day.
There was no live music. There was no Maestro Fresh Wes, no Kardinal Offishall. Nothing to bring something to those waiting for hours for not much of anything. As the day grew longer, before shots were fired, punches were thrown, dehydrated people were passing out. There was that kind of edge to the day, that kind of tension. A day to celebrate, becoming tense, frustrated, and in the end, beyond difficult.
You’re not supposed to go to a parade that celebrates a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment and be concerned about your own safety. That’s not part of the equation. And it’s especially upsetting considering where this team came from, how they grew, how they pulled us in, how they made their play part of our lives.
But late in the afternoon, after the late wait, after going hours without water, so many people gathered in the busy lobby of the crowded Sheraton, with strangers telling other strangers about their day and their experiences. They weren’t talking about whether Kawhi Leonard was going or staying and, typically, he didn’t address it. They weren’t talking about Kyle Lowry wearing a Damon Stoudamire jersey. They were comparing notes on their personal day — where were they when the shots were fired, did they run, did they feel safe, what did they feel?
It wasn’t the day anyone expected, a Toronto day people will remember for all the wrong reasons.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019