Toronto Welcomes Kawhi Back With Open Arms with Pre-Game Tribute
On Wednesday night, the Toronto Raptors welcomed back quite possibly their best player in franchise history.
Kawhi Leonard spent just one season north of the border, but what a season it has been. Leading the Raptors to a Finals appearance, Leonard hit dagger after dagger, made clutch play after clutch play, en route to the team’s first ever NBA championship. Leonard, of course, was dubbed Finals MVP and even received praise from the national media as the best player in the game.
Now, he is back home – he is in sunny Los Angeles, California.
After his lone season with the Raptors came to an end, he entered free agency and chose to return to his home. He grew up in Los Angeles. He starred at San Diego State University, and now, he was a Clipper. And on Wednesday night, he made his long awaited to return back to Toronto and was greeted with open arms.
“It’s like Maximus coming back as the gladiator,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said before the opening jump. “He was the champion and just did everything honorably and the right way. I was joking earlier that would be a great intro.”
After public address announcer Herbie Kuhn introduced the four other Clippers starters, the Raptors showed a nearly two-minute tribute video highlighting Leonard’s tenure with the Raptors and of course, the team’s unforgettable title run. It was a tribute unlike any other and included a rendition of The Shot that took the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“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,” Rivers continued. “That’s a really classy move by the organization and then by the fans as well.”
Following the video tribute, Leonard finally received his ring. After greeting his former team, he met Kyle Lowry at centre court and was handed his championship ring in front of a massive ovation from the Raptors faithful.
“I was joking with him and just showing him that the ring was nice and like it was shining too bright,” Leonard said following the Clippers 112-92 victory, commenting on his pow-wow with his former All-Star teammate. “And we were laughing. Memories probably just ran through our heads.”
The electricity of the moment could be felt across Canada as fans acknowledged the superstar who gave an entire nation a moment that will last forever in time.
“As far as winning a championship, it pretty much has come full circle now,” Leonard said. “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.”
“[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,” he added. “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.”
“Congratulations, Kawhi! The North thanks you.”