A Year We Will Never Forget. Thank you, Kawhi.

Kawhi Leonard hoists his MVP trophy infront of thousands of fans at the Raptors Victory Parade on June 17 2019.

Okay, so the cat is finally out of the bag. Thank goodness.

But the news was not what we had expected. Kawhi Leonard, NBA’s two-time Finals MVP and two-time NBA Championship holder was not staying in Toronto – much to the dismay of many fans.

It was quite the slice, but it’s time to move on – and go home.

I, along with practically everyone else, got caught up in all the speculation frenzy from signing the “Kawhi Please Stay” petition” to going to Google every couple of minutes to see if any news broke. And although I really would have wanted him to stay, I always had my doubts in the back of my mind. I felt that it was a bit too good to be true.

When people started reading into him visiting Niagara Falls, then showing up to a Jays game, and then wearing a Jays shirt in Barbados, it just became a bit much. It’s like, hey, he’s not from Toronto, he could very well just be sight-seeing with his family and exploring the city before heading back. But I get it, we’re human, and when we really want to believe in something, logic and better judgement often goes out the window.

Also, the media has a great way of constantly making you question your own better judgement. After all, if Twitter is trending the hashtag “KawhiWatch” – then he must be staying right? Not exactly. Kawhi is a very private person. His verified twitter account hasn’t been updated in over four years, so all the hash-taging and sensationalizing of this was not going to change what was going in his head.

Plus, after comedian Gerry Dee changed his name to Kawhi Leonard and posted that he was staying in Toronto. That blue checkmark was enough to give many people a mini heart-attack. I get the humour behind the joke, but it was also done in poor taste, in my opinion, only because it seemed to ‘mock’ the entire situation.

On top of that, our relentless pursuit for an answer reached new heights of ridiculousness, when local media ran breaking news bulletins about the MLSE plane touching down in Toronto, a helicopter tracking the vehicle Kawhi was supposedly in, and last but not least, a small crowd of people forming outside the hotel he was supposedly staying at?! Come on.

Yes, I get it, we were beside ourselves with excitement and the anticipation was real, but the whole thing became more about our eagerness rather than giving him the real space he needed to make his decision. The lines totally got blurred.

Why are we seeing news alerts of him at Home Depot with boxes? If he was considering actually staying in Toronto, I hardly think this behaviour would have been viewed as enticing to him. We had legit become stalkers. Not cool.

Plus, who would want to subject their family to that? Feeling and being treated like royalty is one thing, but having a camera practically on your back at any given time is not anyone’s definition of a happy, peaceful life in a place they would want to call home for a few years.

The best display of our love for Kawhi would have been to give the man some space and ultimately respect whatever decision he made.

Kawhi, an already highly-sought-after player at the time, went from being Demar DeRozan’s replacement after he was traded to the Spurs last year, to our biggest hero – and rightfully so. He breathed new life into the Raptors and in his one and only year with the team, brought them right through to the finishing line with an NBA Championship. So yes, why we’d want Kawhi to stay with us, but from a strictly textbook perspective, why should he? He had already done it all for us.

Even throughout the finals, Kawhi had that ‘poker face’ down pat. This article from the Toronto Sun gives perspective on why Kawhi never gave us any real impression that he would actually stay. He was always good at being diplomatic and politically correct in his answers, saying ‘I’m a Raptor for now’ or ‘I won’t talk about that right now’.

People can present their case all they want, sign as many signatures in a petition as possible, and show their incredible support in a history-making victory parade, but at the end of the day, a person has to look out for their families and themselves. He’s an LA native, so playing for a team back home makes the most sense. As a side note, I find it rather refreshing that someone from LA is actually playing for an LA team! I have always found it funny that, as is the case in many of the major sporting associations, you rarely have players on a team that are actually from the city they play for.

Now Kawhi has a new challenge on his hands – bringing the championship home to the LA Clippers – and if he’s successful, that’s three NBA titles under his belt. That’s yet another elevation in his already ‘All-Star’ status, and why shouldn’t he pursue that path? This was not about money or all the freebies in the world; it’s about playing ball, and being the best individual player out there.

I know it’s still a let-down, but remember, Kawhi did not voluntarily come to Toronto last year, yet he came and he played his heart out with the utmost passion and dedication. He was truly in it to win it. Every time the National Anthem played before a game, we would see a poised and focused Kawhi ready to wreak havoc on the court. He is a true professional. No doubt, he will continue to do the same as he moves forward in his career.

I am sure Kawhi will remember Toronto as a city filled with well-intentioned-but-sometimes-crazy fans that are super passionate about their team. I don’t think anyone in LA will be handing him a ‘Kawachtus‘ anytime soon, so he has some very warm and lasting memories to cherish.

How ironic would it be if the final two teams in the 2020 playoffs are the Raptors against the “Kawhi and the Clippers”? You really never know. This year, we proved that anything is possible.

Kawhi, thank you for an unforgettable year and for being a part of the Raptors history that will go down in the books. We truly wish you the best.

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