Public spaces, cinemas to air Toronto Raptors games during NBA finals

As Raptors fever burns its way across Canada, the team's parent company said it's trying to help fans far beyond Toronto experience the excitement of the NBA Finals.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment said Wednesday that 10 Canadian cities have been approved to set up free public viewing spaces where residents can congregate to watch Canada's sole NBA team face the Golden State Warriors.

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The viewing parties are a bid to create local version of "Jurassic Park," the two-block tailgating zone outside the Raptors' home arena where thousands of fans have celebrated the team's every victory in their leadup to the finals.

MLSE also announced a partnership with movie theatre chain Cineplex, which will open 33 cinemas from Newfoundland to British Columbia for free screenings of the finals.

Most of the mini "Jurassic Parks" that are cropping up outside Toronto are in cities across Ontario, but one urban centre in Eastern Canada is also preparing to host the broadcasts.

Halifax, where the Raptors played their first exhibition game in 1995, is planning a public outdoor viewing after encouragement from locals.

Resident and long-time Raptors fan John Whynot, who was among those urging city officials to set up "Jurassic East," said he felt it was important to get behind the team.

"It's the only Canadian team," the 51-year-old IT professional said in an interview. "Who knows when this is going to happen again. You can't get any bigger than that for basketball."

Social media users seemed to agree, taking to Twitter to lobby mayors in cities such as Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Calgary.

"MAKE SOME NOISE CANADA," wrote one Twitter user. "This isn't about one city anymore, it's a whole nation."

In cities where viewings were scheduled, political leaders joined in the overall excitement.

Marianne Meed Ward, the mayor of Burlington, Ont., called the Raptor's playoff run to the finals "our generation's moment" and anticipated raucous festivities in the space city staff christened "Burlassic Park."

"While I will sadly be away ... and missing what is sure to be a great party in our city, I know our residents will be cheering on the Raptors so loudly, I may be able to hear you all from Quebec City," she wrote on Twitter.

Other Ontario communities currently approved by MLSE to set up mini Jurassic Parks include Pickering, Vaughan, Halton Hills, Brampton, Mississauga, Newmarket, Midland and Windsor.

MLSE laid out a short list of criteria for cities looking to get on board, stipulating participants must make the event free to the public, air the full broadcast complete with commercials at full volume, and avoid using sponsorships or trademarked material.

The City of Kingston also announced plans to hold a public viewing, according to its official Twitter feed and city councillor Robert Kiley.

"Sport has the power to bring people together. And sport has the power to play up that which is good in this life: hard work, team work, civic pride," he said in an email. "My constituent suggested the idea to me and I thought, 'let's make the most of this for our community. And let's do it in a public space!'"

Meanwhile, the mayor of Markham, Ont., said his city would be showing the finals on a big screen at a local community centre.

One city that has opted out of the national festivities is Vancouver, which issued a statement saying it was unable to find a venue on short notice.

"Events of this nature require adequate lead time to plan and execute successfully, and while we reviewed plans for a potential viewing event, we were not able to identify a location that was suitable and available for a series of up to seven games," it read.

Those without access to mini Jurassic Parks may be able to find a public viewing at one of the Cineplex theatres.

Cineplex spokeswoman Sarah Van Lange said it's the first time the company has held national viewing parties for a Toronto-based sports team, adding there appears to be interest across the country.

"We have a pretty strong inclination that there is an appetite for viewing parties nationally," she said, adding Cineplex employees are being encouraged to don Raptors jerseys for the start of the series.

Van Lange said tickets for the free screenings will be limited to two per person. They will be up for grabs at participating theatres starting at 6 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

The Raptors square off against the Warriors in Toronto on Thursday night.

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