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The Canadian-Lithuanian Sports Federation & The Toronto Raptors present Fans with the 5th Annual Lithuanian Heritage Day on Sunday, January 18th, 2015

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The Canadian-Lithuanian Sports Federation & The Toronto Raptors presented fans with the 5th Annual Lithuanian Heritage Day on Sunday, January 18th, 2015.

Hundreds of Lithuanian fans from Toronto and surrounding areas came to the Air Canada Centre on Sunday, January 18th to cheer on Toronto Raptor Jonas Valanciunas and his team, as they took on the New Orleans Pelicans at the 5th Annual Lithuanian Heritage Day.

Local Lithuanians were given an incentive to attend the game by being offered discounted tickets at various price points. These allotted tickets, numbering in the hundreds, managed to sell out weeks before the January 18th game. Fans were also given special edition t-shirts reading “Mes – šiaurė” – a literal translation of the new Raptor motto “We the North” – to commemorate Lithuanian Heritage Day.

Lithuanian Youth Choir “Gintareliai”, headed by Deimante Grigutiene, sang the national anthem to start off the event, which began at 3:30 p.m.

The ACC stadium was dotted with Lithuanian flags, and fans wearing yellow, green, and red t-shirts, or Valanciunas jerseys.

At half-time, fans were treated to a performance by the Toronto folk dance ensemble “Gintaras” – showcasing traditional Lithuanian costume and dance.

Sadly, regardless of how many adoring fans, young and old, showed up to offer their support for Valanciunas and the “Raptors”, in the end they came up short – so short! – losing by a mere 2 points (95-93) to the New Orleans “Pelicans”.

However, the end of the heartbreaking game didn’t signal the end of the day’s festivities. Fans had a chance to assemble in the arena post-game and wait for Jonas Valanciunas to appear to answer questions and pose for pictures.

Leo Rautins – a former NBA player and broadcast veteran with over 30 years in the business, also of Lithuanian decent – MC’ed the “Meet and Greet” with Valanciunas. Rautins was also honoured during the game that afternoon, with a video tribute and standing ovation for his outstanding contribution to the sport of basketball in Canada.

As promised, Jonas came out to greet his mob of adoring fans, and answered a variety of questions, some about his personal life (we found out his wife Egle is pregnant with their first child); some about his appearance (“Why are you growing the beard?”…”My wife likes it”.); and some about his performance and that of the “Raptors” (“What will it take to see the Raptor’s end their losing streak and get back on track?”).

Valanciunas managed to pull on the heartstrings of his fans, remarking several times about how honoured he felt to see so many Lithuanian fans come out to support him, and that he’s never seen so many Lithuanians come together in a place like Toronto, to support him and the game of basketball.

And after a couple quick snaps with star-struck fans, Valanciunas was off, presumably to catch a flight to Milwaukee where the “Raptors” were to play the next night.

**Photos by Daina and Romas Puteris

Lietuvių krepšinio diena Toronte

Kanados lietuvių sporto apygarda ir Toronto “Raptors” krepšinio komanda surengė penktąją Lietuvių dieną sekmadienį, sausio 18. Šimtai lietuvių-krepšinio mėgėjų susirinko Air Canada Centre paremti žaidėją Joną Valančiūną ir visą komandą, kuri tą dieną kovojo su New Orleans “Pelicans”.

Vietiniams lietuviams buvo parduodami bilietai su nuolaida, tačiau jie greit išnyko ir nebeliko nei svečiams iš Lietuvos (tą savaitgalį Toronte lankėsi Krašto apsaugos ministeris Juozas Olekas su delegacija). Minint lietuvių dieną buvo išdalintos specialūs marškinėliai su lietuvišku įrašu “Mes – šiaurė”, vertimas iš anglų kalbos “Raptors” naujo šūkio “We the North”.

Prieš žaidimui prasidedant 3.30 v.p.p. lietuvių choras “Gintarėliai”, vadovaujamas Deimantės Grigutienės, sugiedojo Lietuvos himną. Stadione plevesavo daugybė trispalvių, mirgėjo žiūrovų trispalviai marškinėliai ir kiti su J. Valančiūno vardu.

Pertraukos metu Toronto jaunimo ansamblis “Gintaras” pašoko tradicinį tautinį šokį.

Deja, šimtai susirinkusių mėgėjų nenulėmė “Raptors” pergalės. Jie neįstengę įmesti paskutinio dvitaškio ir pralaimėjo (95-93). Vis tik juos pradžiugino susitikimas su Jonu Valančiūnu. Buvo pagerbtas ir buvęs Kanados įžymus žaidėjas ir ilgametis šio sporto komentatorius Leonas Rautinš, kuris vedė pokalbį su dabartine krepšinio žvaigžde.

Jonas atsakinėjo į klausimus apie savo sutuoktinę (laukiasi pirmagimio), savo barzdą (auginu, nes žmonai patinka) ir apie savo bei “Raptors” komandos nesėkmę. J. Valančiūnas ne kartą minėjo labai jautęsis pagerbtas, kad tiek mėgėjų atvyko jį paremti, niekad nematęs tiek lietuvių vienoj vietoj susirinkusių jį palaikyti.

Nusifotografavęs su lietuviais, mūsų krepšinio žvaigždė išskubėjo į Milwaukee, kur jo laukė kitas kitas žaidimas.

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