Toronto Raptors fans are elite (and Oklahoma City Thunder fans are not)

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Five nights in to the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Toronto gets the award for best home fans so far.

For Games 1 and 2 against the Brooklyn Nets, Raptors fans inside and outside the Air Canada Centre behaved like a great sports crowd should. They were passionate, aggressive, supportive, spontaneous, and above all, loud.

This is a rare occurrence in North American sports, where pumped-in arena music, jumbotron-prompted chants and Kiss Cam rule the day.

From the pre-game introductions in Game 1, Raps fans set the tone by berating the Nets’ Kevin Garnett with fervent chants of “KG sucks” just because. He has never played against them in a playoff series before, but they hate him with a passion all the same. Raps fans (with a helping hand from Masai Ujiri) have given this matchup the feeling of a rivalry when no such thing exists – an impressive feat.

At the end of the Game 1 loss, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce did his usual headband toss into the crowd as he walked into the tunnel. The difference this time? Instead of keeping the sweaty game-worn accessory as a souvenir piece to sell on eBay, Raps fans threw it straight back at him:

An individual female Raps fan in the third row also impressed me late in Game 2. With KG guarding an inbounds attempt in front of her by waving both arms in the air, she responded by mocking him and waving back:

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Indeed, they have a sense of humor up north.

But the lasting take-away from the two games has to be the overall energy and noise created.

At one point early in the second quarter of Game 1, players could not hear the ref’s whistle because of the din the fans were creating. When the Raps tied the series in Game 2, the energy in the building and in Maple Leaf Square was comparable to a championship-winning celebration in some cities.

Very rarely do you see thousands of fans turn up to an NBA arena to watch the game on a big screen outside. Raps fans did so twice in four days – waving towels, getting drunk and screaming their heads off at every big play:

Raps fans are extra thirsty for success having not been in the postseason since 2008 and it shows, but make no mistake: they have always had this in them.

Despite only making it out of the first round once in their existence, they have always ranked relatively high in attendance. Last season was their fifth straight year posting a losing record, yet they finished 13th in attendance. And they have always been boisterous when given something to cheer about (or against).

Anyone who watched Vince Carter’s first game back in Toronto after joining the Nets will remember the vociferous boos aimed his way and the creative anti-Vince outfits on the display.

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Vitriol combined with wit: a glorious recipe.

When the Raps faced the Nets in the 2007 Playoffs, they stepped it up again by flawlessly executing a two-in-one chant of “Let’s go Raptors, VC sucks”:

In 2008, they relentlessly mocked Dwight Howard with “Howww-ard” chants as he missed free throw after free throw:

Knicks fans used to do a mean “Scotttttt-ie” for Scottie Pippen in the early ‘90s (when there were questions over Pip’s mental toughness), but this is a rare technique. Raps fans did it to Vince too (“Caaarrrr-terrrr”) and are the first in many years to pull it off properly.

No-nonsense intimidation is something Raps fans pride themselves on. One Raps message board regular stated that they must make the ACC a living hell for their American visitors. This is the kind of rabid desire English football fans approach games with, and it must be applauded.

It is this edginess that helps make the Raptors crowd superior to the often-heralded Oklahoma City Thunder fans.

How do Thunder fans compare?

Routinely, Thunder fans seem to be brought up immediately in any debate over which team has the best crowd in the NBA.

Certainly, Thunder fans have one of the longest sell-out streaks in the league and are louder than most. They have good reason to be: they have won 50+ games in each of the last five seasons and have spent their entire existence watching the maturation of two transcendent superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They do not know what being irrelevant feels like.

Moreover, they are loud in a predictable and friendly, “we’re happy to be here” sort of way. Their vocal support is manifested in the same incessant, mind-numbingly robotic drone of “O-K-C! O-K-C!” over and over again.

They lose points for their lack of targeted hostility and lack of spontaneity. They lose points for their constant use of air-inflated thunder sticks, clapperboards and other artificial noise generators.

I understand that the thunder sticks are a staple throughout the NBA. They are distributed to home fans behind each basket to use as a distraction when an opposing player is at the free throw line. It only seems to be Thunder fans, however, who bash them together with as much ferocity during a break in play as they do during a Dwight Howard foul shot. See here for example:

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Childish at best.

Worst of all, they lose points for leaving games early. This is something Miami’s crowd is rightly criticized for, but greater attention needs to be paid to early departures and empty seats in OKC.

In Game 2 versus the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, several fans left early and missed one of the most ridiculous 4-point plays in NBA history. See the empty seats behind KD as he launches the miracle shot:

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What good is a sell-out streak if fans are missing moments like this by leaving early with games in the balance?

Could it be that these early exits are due to old women needing to get home to bed? Possibly. I have seen more over-50s females at Chesapeake Arena than any other professional sporting venue – and that is perhaps part of the reason for the Thunder’s more-jovial-than-intimidating atmosphere. Maybe the epic chants of “bullllll-sh*t” that follow questionable calls against the Raptors in Toronto are not as prevalent in OKC before the old dolls in the crowd do not want to use profanity:

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Thunder fans are also increasingly guilty of arriving late.

See the vast swathes of empty seats on show midway through the first quarter in a game against the then-first placed Blazers:

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Or here midway through the first against LeBron James and the Heat:

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Even in Los Angeles and New York, fans manage more often than not to navigate far heavier traffic and far more crowded public transport to pack the arena in time for tip-off for a marquee game.

In OKC, fans are missing to start the fourth quarter at times too:

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For a crowd with a reputation like the Thunder’s, this is unacceptable. The prevailing idea is that with nothing else to do and no other major league sports teams to root for in Oklahoma, Thunder basketball means everything to the locals – they live and die with every KD jumpshot and Westbrook foray into the lane. Why then are we seeing this lackadaisical approach to big games? There is no excuse, and the myth that they are a different breed of passionate to other fanbases needs to be put to rest. They are good, but they are less intimidating and less reliable in their attendance than the great Sacramento Kings crowds of the early 2000s or the great Utah Jazz crowds of the late ‘90s.

The “Community,” “Together,” “Family,” “We are Committed” and “Rise as One” themed t-shirts given out in OKC before games are all a subtle nod to their identity as a small-market team and a subtle dig at the big city metropolises, as if they are somehow not in it together to the same extent as OKC, as if those city slickers are less equipped to support their team.

Yet in Round 1 it has been Toronto, a cultural melting pot, thriving tourist destination and fourth largest city in North America that has truly risen as one – indoors and outdoors – to support its team most impressively.

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Tonight, it’s the turn of the Bay Area, one of the largest urban conurbations in America, to show its worth as a sports community as the Golden State Warriors host Game 3 of their series against the Clippers.

Bet on the Warriors fans to once again create an environment more raucous, vibrant and spontaneous than anything OKC produces. Bet on them to arrive early and to not leave if the game’s outcome is at all in doubt. Bet on them to direct a cascade of boos and a few choice “flopper” chants at Blake Griffin. It’s what great sports fans do. It’s what Thunder fans don’t do enough.

The Thunder remain one of the better crowds in the NBA, but the model fanbase they are not.

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30 thoughts on “Toronto Raptors fans are elite (and Oklahoma City Thunder fans are not)

  1. Finally Raptor fans are getting some respect. F*ck Brooklyn! Maple Leaf Square (aka Jurassic Park) will be crazy again tomorrow

  2. I was at one of the “Let’s Go Raptors, VC Sucks!” games and it was amazing.

    In defense of other fan bases, part of the problem is the in house fake cheering that comes out of the arena sound systems. Fans try to cheer, but are drowned out by, “Everybody Clap Your Hands, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap. ”

    That is just so lame. Give fans a chance to take over the cheering once and a while and you will create a more engaged crowd.

  3. Pingback: Toronto Raptor fans are elite | Raptors Watch

  4. Funny, with 1/10th of USA’s population, we manage to take more gold medals than you in the last Olympics (and better seeding due to that)… Yet – nothing to cheer for? EH???

    • The city of Toronto and its boroughs are a world of fans. We jerk off to better equality, reasonable health care, steadier economics, easier immigration etc. THE WORLD CHEERS FOR US. Think larger 🙂

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  5. “This is a rare occurrence in North American sports, where pumped-in arena music, jumbotron-prompted chants and Kiss Cam rule the day.”

    Americans just seem to be doing it wrong, Those Raptor fans are pretty much every Canadian team’s fans in any sport.

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  7. Sorry but the asshole who wrote this article obviously doesn’t know shit about the NBA & just follows the raptors. Because Oklahoma City was the first city to do this in the NBA as a matter of fact we did it the last 3 or 4 years asshole! So to think toronto is the best fans just because they bite off of our idea is very, very funny…ONCE AGAIN DUMB DUMBS! YOUR NOT THE FIRST FANS TO DO THIS!!!! The only Oklahoma City doesn’t do this anymore is because it got entirely to crowded, that’s all, that’s the ONLY reason why.

  8. Pingback: Raptors tie playoff series with Nets in Game 4 | NewsCanada-PLUS News, Technology Driven Media Network

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  11. I’ve been a Thunder season ticket holder for 5 years now and have been to immeasurably more Thunder games than the writer here. I take nothing away from Raptor fans as it seems like an awesome atmosphere that would be a lot of fun to be part of but ignorance is running rampant throughout this article. When you compare OKC fans to Miami fans because of A) one single game and B) the 15 empty seats in the picture (EVERY team in the NBA has some fans that leave early from games, it’s just the way it is.) Frequently at Thunder games the noise level reaches far beyond the point of being able to hear what the person next to you is trying to scream into your ear. Kudos to the Raptor fans for their enthusiasm and bringing passion and a true home court advantage to their team but an extremely poor effort at decent and reputable journalism to David Brown who clearly hasn’t been to many Thunder games in OKC if any.

    • Well said…I’m a Raptor fan (and was actually in Maple Leaf square during the epic celebration video in the article) since the beginning but I think it’s kind of unfair what he’s saying about OKC fans…btw, we have thunder sticks too…ain’t nothing wrong with them…lol

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  14. Your article makes you sound like a envious loser Canadian; with no class…

    Toronto should be glad they’re able to even be apart of this grand U.S. Franchise, I know OKC is, so shove those entitled “fan points.” Frankly, even the notion of “fan points” sounds pretty loser-ish; I don’t think anybody wants any of those.

    Plus your dig at okc is just a pit-full of fallacies, did you go to school? Or are you still “going to university?”

    To sum everything up… Other than Canada helping the United States storm the beaches of Normandy in WWII, you all are worthless. (With Toronto basketball at the top of the list)

  15. @ An Obvious OKC Fan – I love your response, “You are all worthless” – brilliant. You have summed up the difference between Canadians and Americans. Your aggressive, F the world response is why America is so universally hated. Of course you like Canadians when they are joining the good old USA at shooting other humans, but when they happily cheer on a team they are worthless. The fact is, there are more ‘worthless’ people in the US than any other country in the world. From executives at big corporations to loner kids with guns, your country is one big ol mess. Enjoy the NBA this season – specifically watching the worthless fans cheering on their first place team.
    P.S. – the author is not Canadian, he’s British.

  16. We(thunder) have more class as a fan base than most other teams, that’s the reason why we don’t chant out profanity like a**hole or bulllllls**t to the refs or chant some body sucks. We are there to root, cheer and celebrate our team, we’re not there to disrespect nor boo opposing teams. We are only worried about The OKC Thunder. We respect evert organization that comes to our home. Some of us are late to the game because we don’t get off of work until 5-6 than deal with 5 o’clock traffic on the way home, get dressed than off to the game, so it’s understandable. Alot of our fans(season ticket holders) are elderly, we all know, not too many elderly people want to stay up past 11 watching basketball. Besides every team has fans that leave early. Hands down we are the loudest and most supportive. Remember Thunder Alley. It would be a sellout inside the arena and 5-10 thousand or so people outside the arena watching on a jumbotron and were just as loud. No disrespect to any other fan base but since the Hornets were here playing we have been the best, most classy, supportive, loudest fans in the NBA.

  17. Lol, The fans will be gone once they go to trash. Which is hard to do in the east but they’ll get there. I’ve seen games on TV. Toronto fans can’t hold places like Dallas’ or OKC’s jock. Lol Toronto……

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