Rob, a Canadian Raptors fan who lives in San Jose, brought his own Warriors fan to Augie's Montreal Deli in Berkeley for Game 2 on Sunday: his girlfriend, Joua, who grew up in Fresno. (Brian Watt/KQED)
The Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors are back at it again Wednesday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
For Warriors fans, the finals have become a bit routine. But Toronto (and the rest of Canada) are going crazy for a Canadian team's first appearance in the championship.
While we don't have an exact number for how many Canadians live in the Bay Area, the Canadian Consulate says there are about 783,000 of our northern neighbors living in the U.S., and around 16% of them are in California. Of the thousands of Canadians based in the Bay Area, a tiny tranche of them turn up at Augie's Montreal Deli in Berkeley to watch the games, including Game 2 this past Sunday.
"We’ve become kind of a place for Canadians to come celebrate and get together here in the East Bay," said co-owner Lex Gopnik-Lewinski, who grew up in Toronto. They throw a big party on Canada Day and get crowds for hockey games, so Raptors viewing parties only made sense — even if it took him a little while to come around to basketball.
"Basketball is a fun sport, a little too soft for us Canadians sometimes. Don’t like the flopping around and stuff like that. We’re hockey players. We play with broken hands and broken feet," he said.
He doesn't call his deli a refuge for Raptors fans. He said it's more like "Bring your own Warriors fans" along with you.
"We're in the Bay Area. And it's the Toronto Raptors," he said. "It's not like it's the Houston Rockets or the New York Knicks. And we're Canadians. We're a humble people. We're probably going to be embarrassed if we pull this thing off."
Gopnik-Lewinski was behind the bar for Game 2, serving up poutine — a Quebecois dish of french fries and cheese curds topped with gravy — along with Montreal smoked meat and Molson and Moosehead beer.
At one table sat another Toronto transplant, Raymond Graham, and his beer buddy Jeremy Tiner, a longtime Warriors fan.
Graham explained that being a Raptors fan in the Bay Area often requires some explaining.
" 'Toronto? They have a basketball team, really?' " he said, indicating a typical response.
"That's the new Warriors fans," Tiner countered. "Old Warriors fans would commiserate because we were both really lousy teams for a really long time."
Graham and Tiner have been friends for 20 years. They design and program video games, including a very popular basketball game.
"We worked on NBA 2K2 and 2K3 together," said Tiner. "If this [finals series] happened in our game, quality assurance would have bugged our game and said something was wrong, and said this shouldn't happen."
"Oh, hell yeah. This is something I never would have expected to happen," said Graham.
At another table, another Canadian.
"I've always been rooting for the Raptors, default to the Warriors. This year it's completely different," said Rob, who declined to give his last name.
He lives in San Jose and brought his own Warriors fan, too: his girlfriend, Joua, who grew up in Fresno.
"It's definitely a house divided," he said.
"This is the first year of crap-talking to each other," she said. "But he's Canadian, so he's really bad at shit-talking."
When Andre Iguodala hit a clutch 3-pointer, Joua got to do more talking.
But after the Warriors won the Western Conference finals, she was rooting for the Raptors, too. "I really wanted them to meet in the finals, and it’s finally happening," she said. In fact, the two of them were so excited they bought tickets for tonight's Game 3 in Oakland.
"We popped a really expensive bottle of champagne, were super-tipsy and went on Ticketmaster and were like, 'We have to go to the game. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.' The next morning we woke up and were $600 deep and horrible seats," she said.
While the couple will be experiencing their once-in-a-lifetime tickets tonight, Gopnik-Lewinski was quick to welcome everyone else back to Augie's.
"Game 3 right here on Wednesday. All-you-can-eat poutine and smoked meat for $25. $5 beers. We'll have a buffet set up," he said. "Let's go. We are the North!"