Source: Gregory Shamus / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
Kawhi Leonard's earth-shattering decision last week sent the NBA world into a frenzy. Leonard was able to fool a lot of analysts who predicted he would go to the other LA team and join LeBron James. Even the Raptors seemed to have a better opportunity keeping Kawhi than him playing for the Clippers. In Raptor land there's been plenty of mixed reactions to the news of the Klaw signing with the Clippers. Many are accepting and praising Kawhi for what he did for the Raptors organization and the city, though there are many that are outraged and upset.
The fact that some fans are angry with Kawhi's decision is a little confusing. It's understandable to be upset when you hear the news that he isn't coming back, I too was a little upset, but some people are actually pissed off to the point of name-calling. Let's be real, those fans shouldn't be wearing any Raptors merchandise let alone call themselves Raptor fans. What he did is what I feel many would have done and that was to go home. If I had the chance to play for my hometown teams like the Leafs, Raptors, or Jays, you bet your ass I would go home and play. There's nothing wrong going home and being close to family. The familiarity with your surroundings growing up and being comfortable shouldn't be criticized. Kawhi wanted to go home, and for a long time that was his plan. He had a plan and now he's achieving it.
Kawhi Leonard brought a championship to Toronto. The team made history by being the first Canadian (aka Non-American) team to win the Larry O' Brien. Leonard did all he had to do to help capture the NBA championship. He played like a professional and acted like one, he adapted to Toronto, its whether its culture and put up with playing in a different country. Kawhi didn't complain, he didn't ask for a trade, he stuck it out and played the best basketball of his career. He trusted the Raptors medical staff and slowly got himself back to 100%. Kawhi Leonard put everything on the line and then some.
Kawhi coming to Toronto brought out the best of everybody on the team. He doesn't deserve the bashing he's received from some Raptor fans. We as a whole should thank him and be grateful for giving us some many memories in the lone he played here. We should be happy that he helped the city end a championship drought (if you don't count the Argos recent Grey Cup wins). Kawhi's presence gave the Raptors more spotlight, basketball has never been more popular in this country. Kawhi helped that in many ways. The fan base grew and it became contagious where you see almost everyone decked out in some Raptors memorabilia. Look at the championship parade and the sea of people flooding the downtown core, the madness of the celebration, the chants during the parade. The city and country fell in love with the Raptors, and for once hockey took a backseat.
Leonard will always be regarded highly in Toronto sports lore. Will he get a statue? That's up for debate. Should Kawhi get his jersey retired? I don't see why not. In his only season, he broke many Raptors playoff records, he won playoff MVP and the championship, feats the likes of Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Demar Derozan couldn’t accomplish. Longevity is always a big key in retiring a players number, though just like Kevin Durant in Golden State, Kawhi Leonard could be the exception. Kawhi became the talk of the town. The love he received from fans coast to coast was unrivalled and was the king we all accepted.
If the Raptors win another championship, it won't have the same feel like it did the first time they won. Yes, there still will be a big crowd celebrating and a big fuss made, but seeing the Raptors win for the first time can't be beaten. The first time can't be duplicated. There will be many people telling stories to their kids and grandkids about the Raptors and the dream season of 2019. They’ll tell them how the Raptors were finally on top of the basketball universe, how the Raptors dethroned the defending NBA champions and ended a dynasty, how they didn’t need a superteam, no lottery picks, just a bunch of hard-working grinders that became champs.
Kawhi Leonard leaving sucked, but that shouldn't be the end all be all. This year's Raptors team was special and unforgettable. Kawhi Leonard wanted to go on his own way. We shouldn't be throwing him under the bus and his calling him a traitor. We should just be appreciative of what he helped accomplish here. One year of Kawhi was probably the best for both sides. To the fun guy, board man, and the Klaw, thank you for making this basketball season special. Thank you for your contributions. Thank you for bringing the title to the north. You might have left but the memories will last forever.