As Kawhi Leonard received his championship ring before Wednesday’s game, the Scotiabank Arena crowd began to chant “M-V-P.”
God love Toronto. What a delightful bunch of suckers.
The ceremony itself was lovely. Mostly because, unlike the original ring presentation, it was shorter and less pompous than a Wagner production. Leonard got his bauble. He sped down the franchise’s long line of executive cheerleaders, barely acknowledging them. He smiled. After a video presentation that included a recreation of The Shot, he may even have gotten a little misty.
But Leonard didn’t get all worked up when taking his bow. No chest pounding or kiss throwing. No pretending regret.
He’s moved on. You were hoping everyone else could as well. And then the M-V-P thing started. Even Leonard looked confused.
Before the presentation went down, Leonard said he was expecting a 50/50 reaction: “I mean, it’ll be some cheers, but more boos because they want to win the game.”
He didn’t say it self-pityingly. He said it because that’s the way he thinks. It’s about winning the game. Every game. Anything else is base sentiment.
So of course Toronto went all teeny-bopper on the guy. That’s not why he didn’t come back here, but it probably didn’t help.
For months, every basketball person in this country has been talking about this day as some sort of catharsis. Leonard would come back, accept his due and, just maybe, explain this reasons for leaving. On the unlikely side, he’d pull a modified DeMar DeRozan: “I was Toronto.”
But there was none of that. Leonard treated the day like one of 82.
"This is my first time back in the city since the parade,” he said beforehand, which is not the case.
Leonard was in Toronto for days after the parade. He showed up at a Blue Jays game. It was a whole thing.
A while after that, he flew back into the city and was chased around by a helicopter. You’d probably remember if a helicopter chased you. You’d definitely remember if someone offered to give you nearly US$200-million, which the Raptors did that same day.
Not Leonard. He’s erased all that extraneous information from his central processing unit. He’s Kawhi 3.0 now.
Maybe that’s why he enjoyed the pregame montage so much. It’s possible he’s actually forgotten all that happened.
Not that he’s changed much. Leonard continues to bring his rhetorical A-game wherever he goes. The man’s a regular Frank McCourt.
“Happy to be back. Excited to get the ring,” Leonard said, sounding neither happy nor excited. (Although by Leonard standards, two consecutive sentences is a filibuster.)
Plans for this highly emotional evening?
“Be in the present, enjoy the moment of getting the ring, and then play.”
Leonard may be the only person alive whose native language is Stage Direction. He doesn’t ask questions or speak in stories. He tells you who’s meant to be where doing what.
He did at least do the city the favour of lying to everyone: “[Leaving] was a hard choice to make.”
No. It wasn’t. Leonard did his due diligence, but there was nothing about the eventual decision that troubled him. He never came anywhere close to pledging himself to the franchise or the city. He straight up snookered the franchise into thinking it had a chance, making Toronto look a bit the fool. After it was over, the Raptors felt as if they’d never really had a chance.
Even the New Balance billboard baring his likeness unveiled downtown on Wednesday had a perfunctory feel: “Thank You Toronto.”
People were rushing in to congratulate Leonard on his graciousness, as if he’d written a love letter to the city and had it skywritten over the arena. But this wasn’t Leonard doing something for Toronto. It was New Balance doing something for New Balance. All the good vibes are part of the marketing plan.
Leonard was in the end what he’d been expected to be when he arrived: a highly accomplished mercenary.
He didn’t make any connections here outside the locker room. He drove back and forth between the place he lived in and the place he worked. He put the team on his back and carried it to a championship. As soon as he was contractually permitted to move, he did.
And that’s enough.
Leonard is the greatest Toronto athlete of the 21st century and the greatest Raptor ever because he won. It doesn’t matter that he only stayed a year. A lot of guys have stayed a lot longer to do a lot less.
How much he cared for the place is immaterial. How woven he was into the fabric of the city doesn’t matter. Whether he knew which place on the east side serves the best pho has got nothing to do with it.
These guys are paid a ludicrous amount of money to do a job. Leonard was the first person in Toronto basketball history to do his to its fullest capacity. DeRozan didn’t. Vince Carter didn’t. Lovely guys, fun to watch, but professionally they left the city wanting.
I’d take 10 Leonards before I’d take one of anyone else. But since this is Canada, we won’t be getting any Leonards. They prefer California.
If it’s right to give Leonard his moment and his due, it is wrong to gush all over him or continue wishing he’d admit he loved us all along.
Save the testimonials for his retirement. Save the chants for your own team and, ahem, your own MVP candidate in Pascal Siakam. Don’t fall into the Toronto trap of building your dream house in the past.
The title run was great. Leonard was great. The fans were great. Everyone was great.
Now it’s over.
If you need to know how to move on, try channelling Leonard. He forgot about Canada the minute someone here stopped paying his salary.