In a week where we highlight Toronto Raptors villains, it’s important we acknowledge that the Kawhi Leonard is anything but that.
Villains week is meant to highlight enemies of the Toronto Raptors, the players who have ripped fans hearts out. From Paul Pierce to LeBron James, Toronto has had plenty of bad blood with players and even some NBA teams.
Many of these villains have caused heartache and pain for Toronto over the years. Almost all of that pain was alleviated when Kawhi Leonard carried the Raptors to their first-ever championship this past season.
Kawhi was brought to Toronto in a blockbuster deal which sent out long-time hero, DeMar DeRozan. Leonard was originally viewed as a one-year rental, but after winning it all, Raptors fans were hopeful that he would re-sign with them. With the ability to bring back the same, championship-caliber, as well as, offer more money, Toronto felt Kawhi might be interested in creating a dynasty North of the border.
Well, Kawhi ended up leaving for Southern California, signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Raptors and their fans were understandably disappointed, knowing they did everything they could to try to keep him.
Even though Leonard packed up and left Toronto, he’s far from a villain in the Raptors’ eyes. After what he did for, not only the Raptors but the country of Canada, we can all agree that Kawhi and villain don’t belong in the same sentence.
Villain? Try Hero
Hero, not villain, is how Raptors fans should describe Kawhi Leonard. If Kawhi followed through on the reports that he wouldn’t play for the Raptors, then things would be different. However, as we all know, he ended up playing out his contract, was the team’s stoic leader, and took the franchise places they’ve never gone before.
Kawhi was amazing for Toronto, helping them to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. If he didn’t miss 22 games last season (due to the infamous load management), he would’ve been in the conversation for MVP. He saved that energy for when his team needed it most and that was during their playoff push. During that run, Kawhi put on a hero’s cape and had one of the best postseason runs that the NBA has ever seen.
Kawhi had plenty of heroic moments during last year’s playoffs that will live in Raptors (and NBA) history forever.
He first etched himself into Raptors history with an iconic buzzer-beater in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the first game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history, and it provided us with one of the most iconic sports photos you will ever see.
After that, Leonard led the Raptors back from an 0-2 hole against the Milwaukee Bucks. Down big, battling a leg injury, with free agency around the corner, there were plenty of reasons for Leonard to quit.
But he didn’t. He stepped up to the challenge and helped the Raptors win four straight to clinch the series. What’s even better? He managed to neutralize Giannis Antentokounmpo in the process, locking him up with his defensive excellence. Not to mention landing a few posterizing dunks on him as well.
Kawhi could also be seen as the lionheart for the entire NBA. In a year where it was expected that the Golden State Warriors would win another championship, Kawhi managed to defy the odds and beat them in the NBA Finals. Yes, Kevin Durant only played half a quarter and Klay Thompson injured his knee in game 6, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that he destroyed another dynasty and gave NBA fans something to watch and cheer for during the Finals.
No Villainy Here
What Kawhi did last season for Toronto will be remembered by the fans forever. He gave them everything he had, even though he was only tied to them for one year; that kind of selflessness is something that can’t be matched, especially in the hearts of the Raptors faithful. He brought them their first championship after years of falling short.
When it comes to the Raptors fans, all they ask for is dedication, effort, and love. Kawhi was able to provide all of that, on top of a championship. Although he departed immediately after, he did all he needed to in just one year.
Many Raptors supporters are content with Kawhi’s decision to leave Toronto and return home to L.A. Even the ones who are still upset with the decision, can certainly understand his choice. There is no villainy here, and the citizens of Canada seem to back up that statement.
His career as a Raptor was only a one-year honeymoon. But in that lone year, Kawhi made sure to make a positive impact on all of Canada. For anyone who might think Kawhi is a villain — stop. There is no validity in that argument. Leonard will go down as a Raptors hero, which last time I checked, is the opposite of a villain.