As a born and raised Torontonian, I watched as my fellow Raptors fans erupted into song, dance, and – in some instances – dinosaur costumes in the streets of downtown Toronto following the Raptor’s historic win of the NBA Championship. I had never experienced anything like it: Fans, including myself, took to the streets, walking in directions unknown, high-fiving strangers, yelling proudly, whooping, and watching as others were ‘daring’ (used politely) enough to ‘entertain’ (also used politely) the crowd through methods which ranged from jumping on cars and populating the tops of moving trucks, to climbing poles and launching fireworks in the middle of a dense crowd.
Raptors Parade Float
Source: Mariana Bockarova
In most circumstances, any of the descriptions of rioting above would result in the cautious passerby fleeing for safety before the seemingly inevitable occurred (witnessing or being part of a terrible injury, like being trampled on by the crowd, or hurt in some other form), but instead, thousands gathered deep into the night. Only four days later, an estimated two million Canadians flooded downtown Toronto, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Raptor’s at the Championship parade.
Why risk one’s safety to be part of the crowd following a sports game?
In 1985, Baumeister and Leary wrote a seminal paper on the human need to belong. Essentially, they posited that human beings have a deep and necessary evolutionary motivation to be part of a larger group; to be accepted by and make connections with others. This holds true physiologically, as research shows loneliness is indeed related to cardiovascular disease and mortality, and has large effects on cognitive functioning, leading to Alzheimer’s disease and general cognitive decline. This issue is particularly alarming as 15–30% of the general US population experience loneliness a chronic state.
In a metropolitan city like Toronto, which is home to over 200 different cultures with 140 languages spoken, aligning oneself to a sports team serves a sense of unification and belonging to others who may otherwise have no commonality on any other front. Indeed, the sense of connection difficult to otherwise replicate.
Still, it would be difficult for belonging alone to account for such an incredible turnout (particularly as Dunbar’s number suggests people can only build and maintain a relationship with 150 people over one’s lifetime; 2 million seems excessive to this).
Another reason for this experience may in fact be the need for meaning in one’s life: As psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl noted, our search for meaning is our primary motivation as humans, as we structure our lives by narratives. Marking an important and special occasion, particularly a potential “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to showcase one’s allegiance to city or country, can be an incredibly meaningful moment, shared with generations to come and marking a momentous occasion, similarly regarded as important and meaningful by wider society.
While I will address rioting and crowd violence in another post, Toronto certainly proved their needs — either belonging or meaning-making — fulfilled with the Championship win.