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Captive to Kawhi, Raptors fans can only watch as Leonard flees the north

A year-long marketing campaign to maintain celebrity Kawhi Leonard in Toronto has come to a screeching halt. The 2-time NBA Finals MVP is heading residence to California, leaving in his wake a crew and fanbase revelling of their first-ever championship but in addition questioning what may need been.

It has been a dramatic, turbulent and frenzied week in Toronto, with free-agent theatrics over Leonard reaching a fever pitch on Wednesday.

Raptors followers have been twitterpated as they awaited Leonard’s resolution. Twitter was buzzing with rumours and unfounded reviews, and an area TV station used its site visitors helicopter to trace a personal aircraft owned by the group that operates the Toronto Raptors as video footage led folks to invest that Leonard was one of many passengers on that aircraft.

These have not been regular instances in a metropolis that was starved for a championship, so when Leonard delivered, delirium ensued.

The King of the North is heading south, ending a year-long reign that noticed his star rise at exponential pace.

Bookended by laughs

In his first public look ever as a Toronto Raptor, on Monday Sept., 24, 2018, Leonard was requested to explain himself to folks throughout Canada.

“I’m a fun guy,” he proclaimed.

Then he laughed. Oh, that snort. Jarring. Awkward. Endearing.

Maybe it was becoming then, in his final public look as a Raptor, with a pair million followers within the streets on the championship celebration, Leonard left followers with one final snort.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard will get the final snort at Raptors parade:

Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard “has fun” throughout his speech at Raptors’ title parade. 1:35

Throughout that very same opening information convention, Leonard was pressed again and again about whether or not he wished to be taking part in in Toronto in any respect — the identical query was requested too many various methods.

“If you’re looking to the future you’re going to trip over the present,” Leonard lastly mentioned.

Becoming, as a result of it is precisely what he was in a position to do all season lengthy with the Raptors — keep current. And there weren’t many missteps alongside the way in which due to it.

It was a wild and depraved yr for the Raptors and their rabid fanbase. In actual fact, it was virtually a yr in the past to the day that the franchise was mired in additional questions than solutions after firing coach of the yr Dwane Casey and buying and selling away fan favorite DeMar DeRozan.

The crew was coming off a franchise-best 59-win common season. Their long-time nemesis LeBron James left for the L.A. Lakers. The celebrities appeared to be aligned for the Raptors to lastly break by way of — they usually blew the whole lot up.

Captive to Kawhi, Raptors fans can only watch as Leonard flees the north 1
Kawhi Leonard supplied an indelible second for Raptors followers with their championship run. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Photos)

Some followers have been left seething.

DeRozan was adored by followers. He as soon as famously mentioned “I am Toronto.” He poured his coronary heart into the Raptors. And he was gone. Similar to that.

The blockbuster deal noticed Leonard and three-point specialist Danny Inexperienced come north, DeRozan, backup centre Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 protected first-round draft decide going to the San Antonio Spurs.

Kawhi who? A few of the followers could not even pronounce his title correctly, and he solely performed 9 video games the earlier season with a nagging proper quad harm holding him out of the lineup. He was the NBA Finals MVP in 2014 after main the Spurs to a championship, however there have been numerous questions on how productive he could possibly be coming off a significant harm.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, there have been quite a few reviews Leonard wished to return residence as shortly as attainable — there was a darkish, ominous cloud hanging over the celebrity and the Raptors from the start about whether or not he would keep or go after his one season in Toronto.

That doubt, whether or not Leonard truly wished to be in Canada, was taken as a problem by Raptors followers who shortly made it their sole aim to romance Kawhi all through the season and show Toronto a worthy residence for him.

Playoffs go to an entire new degree

Whereas the regular-season relationship recreation was reasonably tame between Leonard and the Raptors followers, it escalated in a rush because the crew began its playoff journey.

With every win, with every Kawhi block, shot, steal, slam and bounce-around-the-rim buzzer beater, the followers’ flirting and courting ramped as much as a completely totally different degree. The Ka’Wine & Dine marketing campaign ran rampant throughout Toronto eating places — free meals for all times for the celebrity at native institutions. He was promised penthouses and property. The #HeStay motion went viral on social media. The total-court press was on.

There has by no means been a Toronto Raptor within the historical past of the franchise to play the calibre of basketball Kawhi Leonard performed at. He single-handedly took the Raptors excessive, getting them to the head of the basketball world similar to Toronto president Masai Ujiri had imagined when he made that daring transfer.

WATCH | Leonard’s ridiculous buzzer beater sends Raptors to East closing:

Kawhi Leonard poured in 41 factors, together with a dramatic game-winner because the Toronto Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 92-90 to advance to the Jap Convention Finals. 1:23

No person will ever neglect Kawhi’s Recreation 7 heroics in opposition to Philadelphia — that ball seemingly nonetheless bouncing across the rim proper now, solely to improbably drop.

There was additionally the evening Kawhi modified the complexity of the Raptors playoff run. Down 2-Zero within the Jap Convention closing, he logging a career-high 52 minutes and willed the crew to a Recreation three victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Had the Raptors misplaced that recreation, the season was greater than possible over. Clearly injured and hobbled, Kawhi persevered and guided the Raptors to that win. They by no means misplaced to the Bucks once more.

Regular presence

And maybe most noteworthy was the calm Kawhi dropped at the crew within the NBA Finals in opposition to the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. There was a degree of perspective and poise exuding from each Raptor. After they left the court docket in Recreation four having received each video games inside Oracle Area, the crew marched off the court docket, stoic and unemotional.

Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and the remainder of the crew talked about Kawhi’s nature — he stored all of them grounded.

We could by no means really know what drives Kawhi Leonard. Folks will challenge their very own concepts of who he’s onto him, however there’ll all the time be an aura surrounding the celebrity, which might be precisely how he’d need it.

However there’s something to be mentioned concerning the uncommon moments when Kawhi did reveal elements of himself to a fanbase studying into each smile and snort alongside the way in which.

He is a self-proclaimed enjoyable man that likes to win.

He received in Toronto, a crowning second supplied by the King of the North that can ceaselessly be etched into the minds of sports activities followers throughout Canada.

Now, he’ll attempt to do it with the Clippers, too.

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