It’s hard to think of another athlete who had a bigger impact on a franchise despite being a one-year rental than Kawhi Leonard. Acquired in a trade that required getting rid of Raptors legend DeMar DeRozan, Leonard was magnificent, leading Toronto to its first ever NBA championship thanks to a torrid postseason run.
Of course, Leonard left Toronto as a free agent this past summer, opting to head home and team up with Paul George on the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s worked out pretty well for both teams — the Clippers and Raptors are two of the best squads in the league so far this year — and on Wednesday night, the fine folks north of the border got the opportunity to see Leonard in person for the first time since he left.
While the two teams played once earlier this year, that game occurred in Los Angeles. Wednesday’s matchup occurred in Toronto, and before the game, Raptors fans showed Leonard (who looks like he might have teared up) their appreciation as he received his championship ring from Kyle Lowry.
In an absolutely amazing addition to the festivities, Toronto’s pregame video for Leonard included a section dedicated to his series-clinching shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Raptors recreated Kawhi's game-winning shot against Philly on the floor. 👀 pic.twitter.com/xelM2hPsPo
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 12, 2019
It’s the latest in what has been a city-wide love fest between the reigning NBA Finals MVP and his old team. Billboards have popped up across the city prior to tip with both sides thanking one another, and on Tuesday, the Raptors released a video dedicated to their favorite Fun Guy. At a time when breakups in the NBA can be awfully testy, it’s really cool to see the amount of love that Toronto has for Leonard and vice versa. All that’s left is for Leonard to pick up another win against the Raptors — when the two sides faced off in Los Angeles a month ago, the Clippers won even though Leonard had 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting. He did, however, pitch in 11 rebounds, nine assists, and three steals.