TORONTO — For former Toronto Raptors executive Glen Grunwald, the defining moment of the team's first game in November 1995 didn't come when the players trotted out on the SkyDome hardcourt in their old-school warmup outfits, when Alvin Robertson hit the opening shot, or when the expansion club nailed down a 94-79 win over the New Jersey Nets.
It certainly wasn't when four buff Herculean cavemen sporting only loin cloths carried out a seven-foot egg with the Raptor mascot inside, eventually busting out of its shell to backflip and gyrate for the 33,306 fans in attendance.
These were fun, humble beginnings and they brought smiles to the wide-eyed youngsters in the crowd, the team executives who spent two years building the franchise, and players who were a part of basketball history north of the border.
National unity was also top of mind at the time. The country had endured nervous moments that week when the No side narrowly won a referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
So when members of the Barenaked Ladies sang a verse of O Canada in French, an intense feeling of national pride permeated through the crowd.
"The crowd just erupted in cheers, it was really pretty emotional to see," said Grunwald, an assistant GM at the time. "All of the Canadians coming together at a sporting event. The first Raptors game ever and I think it was symbolic in a way. It showed how basketball can bring people together and celebrate their common community."
Forget the wall-of-sound, pyrotechnic-heavy video show that will be used before the Raptors host Golden State in the NBA Finals opener on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
A much more modest team introduction was used back then. With a steady bassline providing the sound bed, longtime announcer Herbie Kuhn called out the starting five of Zan Tabak, Ed Pinckney, Carlos Rogers, Alvin Robertson and Damon Stoudamire.
A sampling of Montell Jordan's "This is How We Do It" was played before Pinckney won the opening tip. The Raptors swung the ball to Robertson, who made a three-pointer for Toronto's opening bucket.
The Raptors briefly held a share of first place in the Central Division after that opening win before dropping seven in a row. The team went on to finish last in the division with a 21-61 record.
Toronto was an impressive third in home attendance that season, helped in part by the extra seating available in the cavernous dome. Local fans remained on board despite the growing pains of the expansion era.
"It was like a newborn baby where the eyes are wide open and totally innocent," former Raptors broadcaster Mike Inglis said from Fort Myers, Fla. "Wondering what is going to happen and what is next."
It was a learning process for many in a city where hockey's Maple Leafs and baseball's Blue Jays were king.
Former Raptors forward Tracy Murray remembers cracking up at the free-throw line when some home fans waved thundersticks in the air, which is normally done to rattle opposing players before they shoot.
"It was funny to me," Murray said from Chino Hills, Calif. "It didn't distract me, I just found it amusing ... we had to educate as we went along."
There were some new challenges for the players too, many of whom had limited — if any — experience in a stadium setting. Grandstands were set up around three sides of the court, with regular seats available on the first base/right field side at the building now called Rogers Centre.
Murray said it often took a quarter or two for opposing teams to find a rhythm with their shooting because it was not a traditional arena venue.
"That basket seemed like it was a mile away," he said.
Head coach Brendan Malone's offence was built around Stoudamire, who was named rookie of the year after averaging 19 points a game. The first-round draft pick led a roster built mostly through an expansion draft of players deemed expendable by other teams.
"Everybody needed a second chance," Murray said. "Everybody needed that second look to re-establish their careers. So you had a bunch of hungry basketball players on that team."
Like most expansion clubs, losing was the norm. But there were memorable moments too, including an emphatic 110-93 win over Shaquille O'Neal and the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic that December.
In March, the Raptors pulled off a stunning 109-108 upset win at home over the powerhouse Bulls, a rare defeat in Chicago's incredible 72-10 season.
"They were playing Michael Jordan's theme song 'Space Jam,'" former Raptors centre Oliver Miller said from Peoria, Ariz. "You looked up and there must have been about 30 or 40,000 fans at the time and mostly Bulls fans in the Bulls colours.
"But we had a bunch of guys with a bunch of fight."
Pinckney would play 47 games for Toronto that season before being traded to Philadelphia. He said team brass was always conscious of putting a competitive team on the floor, and players were quick to embrace the system, city and the country.
"I know every time that we played the Raptors, I sing the national anthem — I know it by heart," said Pinckney, an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves this past season. "That was another thing that Glen Grunwald, (former GM) Isiah Thomas, Brendan Malone, they wanted us to remember the anthem and we all did.
"It was a great sense of pride playing up there."
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.