While Monday night was Fanapalooza at Air Canada Centre, Amir Johnson had his own way of giving back to Toronto Raptors faithful last week. For his fourth annual I Roll With Amir event, Johnson upped the ante. On Wednesday, Johnson treated fans to a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, with gift bags and a pregame meet up included. On Thursday he met up with the winners for a dinner tournament at Medieval Times.
Prior to posing with fans and being knighted on stage, Johnson spent time hanging out with his supporters and relished the opportunity to talk with them in person.
“Just seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces, the kids, everybody’s appreciation, it’s just unbelievable,” Johnson said. “It’s gotten bigger and bigger. The fans really do appreciate it and we definitely have the best fans in the world. It’s just awesome.”
Catching up with some of the familiar faces who have attended his events in Toronto is a yearly highlight for Johnson.
“It comes to show you how many loyal fans we have,” Johnson said. “Fans come back more and more and they get more excited. They’re more over the top now that we have the playoffs coming. They have our back and they support us. I tell them, ‘We’re all a family now. We need everybody in this.’”
Johnson took a moment to reflect on how his annual event has grown over the past four seasons. Originally starting out as a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House — a favourite of Johnson’s — it has emerged into a two-day event with an impressive array of challenges and meet-ups giving participants the chance to win tickets.
Attending Medieval Times as a child with his family, Johnson thought it would be fun to take fans to somewhere out of the norm. Acknowledging that the building looks much smaller to his 6-foot-9 self than it did when he was a kid in Los Angeles, he was excited to give participants an evening they wouldn’t get with any other professional athlete in town.
In typical Johnson fashion, he wanted to show appreciation to the Raptors organization, his agency and right-hand man Veezy for their contributions to help the event run smoothly each year. In particular, Veezy plays a crucial role in making Roll With Amir possible.
“I put the ideas together, but to go through the meetings he goes through, go through the agency and have the organization help me, he really does all the little things,” Johnson said. “He goes out to different parts of the city, to Brampton, to Scarborough, everywhere to make sure people actually have a fair chance to win tickets, it’s huge. He’s the main reason that makes this happen. If I could, I would go out and give out the tickets myself and he does that for me.”
With the Raptors heading to the postseason for the first time in five seasons, there was plenty of playoff talk on Thursday night. The fans weren’t alone in their anticipation of the NBA’s second season.
“It’s really what they’ve been waiting on,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited. We do this for the city. Not only ourselves, but it’s big for the city. I know they’ve been waiting so long for another playoff run. This team has been through ups and downs. I’ve been through it, I’ve stayed. I love this city so much. I wanted to do this for them. Not only for ourselves and our organization, for them.”
“Fans Make This Whole Thing Move”
From the moment Johnson was traded to Toronto, he has embraced the city. Five years later, he is a fixture here.
While Toronto is a long way from Los Angeles and Canada is quite different from California, Johnson said he knew from the moment he stepped off the plane as a Toronto Raptor that there was something special about his new second home.
“The feeling I got when I came here, I knew it was a humble city,” Johnson said. “It’s very diverse. I felt like big things were happening. The uprising of Drake, new artists, [Justin] Bieber, everyone was blowing up. I just felt everything was growing in this city. The new buildings downtown, fixing the trains around here, it felt like something big is happening. Now we have All-Star coming down here [in 2016] and that’s huge. It’s growing bigger and bigger and it’s exciting for me. Especially when you’re living here and finding out new stuff, it’s pretty cool.”
Above all, Johnson wanted to make sure all of the people in attendance knew how much their support means to him. When it comes to fan appreciation, Johnson is direct in reaching out and communicating with those who have been there with him through his ups and downs in a Raptors uniform.
With the playoffs on the horizon, Johnson wants every Raptors fan to know they couldn’t have done it without them.
“I tell them, they’re a big piece of this run of this team,” Johnson said. “They’re just as important as the players, as the staff as everybody in our front office. They’re what makes this team. If it wasn’t for the fans, it would just be five guys in an empty arena playing against each other. Fans make this whole thing move.”