It’s usually where the city’s new basketball team, the Edmonton Stingers, play their home games.
But Thursday night, Hall D of the Edmonton Expo Centre will be transformed into a massive viewing party for game six of the NBA finals pitting the Toronto Raptors against the Golden State Warriors.
The set-up is not unlike Jurassic Park, the area outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto where crowds gather to watch Raptors games broadcast on giant screens. As the team progressed through the playoffs, mini Jurassic Parks began popping up across the country, both officially designated and not.
“We’re going to make it like an in-game experience for them while they’re watching the Raptors game,” said Stingers spokesperson Jason Hills.
The free event will feature half-time entertainment and Stingers players will be in attendance.
Concession stands will also be open for food and drink.
“We want everyone to have a good time … and want fans to be able to interact with the Stingers,” Hills said.
Lee Genier, president of the Stingers said he expects the 4,300-seat court to be “a packed house.”
“You’re in the middle of the NHL playoffs as well and everything is basketball talk,” he said. “There’s a huge movement in Canada towards basketball.”
“That was … the catalyst in starting this league,” Genier added.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League launched its inaugural season this May with the Edmonton Stingers among its six teams. On Friday, they’ll face off against the Hamilton Honey Badgers.
Genier hopes attendees of the viewing party will return the next day to watch the team in action.
‘A tidal wave’
The Stingers aren’t Edmonton’s first pro basketball team. The Edmonton Chill, later reformed as the Edmonton Energy, played in its various forms between 2007 and 2012. Paul Sir was their general manager and coach.
“We were ahead of our time,” Sir said. “But I was a believer then as I am now, in the reach of basketball.”
Sir is now head of the Alberta Basketball Association, which administers and promotes the sport across the province. He says basketball is now the most played sport in schools and is especially popular among newcomers.
The recent Raptors fever is only the latest in the sport’s growing momentum, he said.
“It’s gone from a wave to a tidal wave,” Sir said. He says he has heard stories of families and first-time fans coming together to cheer on the team, forging a new sense of community.
“[The viewing party] gives people another opportunity to gather as a community to support this team that’s representing our country,” he said.
With basketball’s growing popularity, Sir said the Stingers have a good chance of long-term success.
“I believe pro basketball is here to stay in Canada and I believe we’re going to continue to see more and more people play the sport than have ever played it before,” he said.
Doors open at 6 p.m. for the Raptors viewing party and the game starts at 7 p.m.