The Toronto Raptors left an indelible mark on the NBA last spring when they took home their first championship in franchise history. For the organization, it signaled the culmination of years of heartbreak despite their successes as they were never quite able to get over the hump as long as LeBron James was in Cleveland.
All of that changed when Kawhi Leonard came aboard. In his lone season in Toronto, he managed to rewrite the narrative surrounding a team that had been viewed as somewhat of a disappointment for their years of postseason letdowns. Kawhi was absolutely incredible during their championship run, and he also gave fans one of the greatest moments in playoff history.
His game-winning, series-clinching buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Sixers is certain to go down as the iconic shot of his career, and even the normally stoic Kawhi couldn’t help but let himself savor the moment. In a recent oral history of his shot, Kawhi explained why he allowed himself such a rare outburst of emotion.
Leonard: I’m a guy that acts like I’ve been there before. So, probably the last time you probably seen me screaming was like when [the Spurs] won [the 2013-14 NBA championship]. So whenever there’s a moment where I haven’t really experienced [something], I try to give some emotion, show some emotion, and let it just come out. [Game 7] was one of those nights. I’d never been in that situation before … it’s the first shot somebody hit a game-winner in Game 7. So I just showed emotion. And it was great. It’s a great feeling.
From that perspective, it’s understandable why Kawhi usually likes to act like he belongs and that it’s all business as usual, but the gravity of that shot superseded everything else, and rightfully so — it’s not everyday that you sink a series-winning buzzer-beater.
A lot has been made about Kawhi’s notoriously stoic personality, and it’s something he’s well aware of. He was even able to laugh at himself in a recent commercial for the new Terminator movie. He’s since moved on from the Raptors, but let’s hope his time with the Clippers offers even more opportunities for Kawhi to participate in occasional expressions of unfiltered human emotions.