Kawhi's Return To Toronto

Classy as hell.

Jim Rome
December 12, 2019 - 9:55 am
Kawhi Leonard

USA Today

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All eyes were on Toronto last night for Kawhi’s return. And it was incredibly classy and incredibly cool. A truly great night. You knew it would be. You knew there was no way that Kawhi was coming back to Toronto and they were going to boo him out of the building. Or throw stuff at him. Or ice him. Or ghost him. Or disrespect him on any level.

They gave him the ultimate welcome. There were billboards all over town. The team was tweeting about it in advance.

And when the night came, it wasn’t just a few MVP chants and a brief highlight video crammed into a timeout in the third quarter. It was an epic production.

There was a nearly 2-minute video tribute during the player introductions and it included a moment where the arena went dark and they played the audio of his epic shot against Philadelphia with his footprints lighting up on the floor, retracing the steps.

That was cool as hell. Really creative. You could tell they put a lot of time, energy, and thought into it. 

And it highlights the relationship between Raptors fans and Kawhi. And how he changed everything. Because the moment that they chose to highlight and feature in that incredibly cool way wasn’t beating getting past Milwaukee in the conference finals. Or taking down Golden State to win the title.

It was beating Philadelphia to in the conference semifinals. And looking back years from now, you might think, why was that such a big deal? They won the NBA Finals. They took home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Why was winning a conference semifinal such a big moment that year?

Because that was the moment he became a legend in Toronto. That was the moment they all started to believe.

Because it was the shot. And when you go back and watch that shot again, it is even more outrageous and insane than ever before. The movement, the shot, the ball on the rim, the faces of Kawhi, Embiid, and everyone else. 

And then it goes down. And everything changed. 

It was THE shot.

And then Kawhi was introduced to the crowd.

And he got his ring. A special ring with a special message.

"I have a logo in there. And [the ring is sized for] my middle finger, so it reminds me 'put it on my middle finger.' So I have like a 'FU' symbol in there."

And then they played a basketball game. And Los Angeles won. And it didn’t really feel like it mattered. Because that’s the rare night when the pre-game introduction is the real show. Where the game itself is kind of an afterthought. 

If you want the details, here they are: Kawhi had 23 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Another former Raptor, Lou Williams, had 18. And by the way, Lou Williams got a tribute video too. He’s been away for five years and they still broke out a tribute for him. They literally thought of everything. 

Anyway, there was a final score to the game. LA won 112-92. 

Toronto has had a great season in their post-Kawhi life, but last night was not their night.

And yet it kind of was. Because that is now the gold standard for how you welcome someone back. I’ve never seen any team do it better than they did for Kawhi. Neither has Doc Rivers. 

"I thought what the Raptors did overall -- the video, the players coming out, all of them who played with him -- that's the best that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the league. That's a really classy move by the organization and then by the fans as well." 

And they did it for a guy who was there for a year. It’s worth remembering that Kawhi wasn’t a Toronto lifer. He was there for 60 regular season games and the postseason and then he left. But nobody in Toronto is holding that against him.

And after the game, Kawhi seemed to have really enjoyed the night:  "As far as winning a championship, it pretty much has come full circle now. Being able to get the ring and see where the hard work came from. But it's more than that. ... It's just a journey. For me, as far as playing for the city, the chapter coming closed once I came over with the Clippers, but still love the city. Those guys on the team, the players, the coaching staff, still have love for them and wish them the best."

He went on: "[The video and the fans] just kind of puts you back in those spots when you were on the floor, or the locker room talk going into the game, and after the game watching those highlights. It was a special season for us, for me and for the whole city and country. I'm just glad we were able to win. It was a blessing."

Normally, conflict is good. Guys talking junk or teams that hate each other is good for the show. There’s a reason why this is The Jungle and not The Garden. A reason why niiiice radio always sucked. But last night was niiiice. Really nice. All love. They did a great job with that welcome. So good that the game almost didn’t matter. The home team got blown out on an off night and I’m not sure any fans were all that disappointed. 

But it’s not like Raptors fans were all Toronto Nice, either. Because they did boo Paul George. And I do respect that. That’s just to remind you that you’re not going to come in here and walk all over us. And also probably some Raptor fans holding it against George that Kawhi is in LA. Either way, I’m good with it. 

Because I was good with everything they did last night. That was classy as hell. The absolute gold standard for how you pay your respect and show your love for a player.  Love and respect that this guy absolutely earned. And deserved. And they gave it to him.  The Raptors and their fans: classy as hell.