As the clock ticked down on the Toronto Raptors 114-110 victory against Golden State, Canadians all over the country began to let loose as they celebrated the country’s first NBA title.
In Deline, N.W.T., the community’s high school graduation ceremonies were the perfect spot for a uniquely Northern Raptors championship celebration: a circle drum dance.
The community gathered together Thursday for a feast to send off their graduates. As they danced and chanted a song of celebration, the news came through — the Raptors were 10 seconds away from a championship.
Suddenly, a shout: “Let’s go Raptors!”
The crowd went wild, cheering on the team that have become Canada’s own over their historic playoff run.
“All of a sudden all of the young people just started yelling and dancing. We had a good one, a good dance for the Raptors,” said Morris Neyelle, an elder who was there to celebrate his grandchildren’s graduation.
“It was a Dene-style celebration,” he said, laughing.
Deline, a community of about 500 people on Great Bear Lake, is often considered the birthplace of hockey, but basketball has a big following, especially among the younger people in town.
Basketball is widely played in Canada’s North, with Raptors fans spread throughout Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Fans often joke that “We the True North,” riffing off the Raptors’ popular “We the North” slogan.
People in Whitehorse, Rankin Inlet, Tuktoyaktuk and Cambridge Bay fly their Raptors flags and it’s common to see kids shooting hoops late into the evening in communities across the North.
For Neyelle, it’s something he’s pleased to see, especially as his granddaughter loves the game.
“It felt really good, it’s fun to see young people so happy because of what’s happening and encourage them,” he said. “Sports is very important.”
And how does Neyelle think the Raptors themselves will celebrate their win?
“It’s the weekend,” he said. “So I think they’ll probably be celebrating tonight for sure!”