The Toronto Raptors have made their pitch to superstar player, Kawhi Leonard. As they wait on his decision, Raptor fans have been caught up in #KawhiWatch.
The City of Toronto was swept up in the magic of the 2019 NBA playoffs, watching the Toronto Raptors overcome the odds and win their first title in franchise history. During that run, something changed in the city, even non-sports fans became enamoured with the team.
The passion and love for the Raptors poured out from Torontonians and grew as the season went along. It all crescendoed at the team's victory parade where it is believed that over two million people lined the downtown streets to celebrate. Days later, fans were all turning their focus to the same thing, would Kawhi Leonard return to the Toronto Raptors?
Toronto sports fans are famous for their certainty that devastation is always on the horizon. There are many examples of heartbreak who hit the city at the last second, such as the 1993 Game 6 high stick that went uncalled by referee Kerry Fraser, when Wayne Gretzky clipped Doug Gilmour in the face.
There was the 2001 missed buzzer-beater by Vince Carter in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Worst of all, there was the 2013 Maple Leafs collapse against the Boston Bruins, when the Buds let a 4-1 lead with nine minutes left in the third period slip away. All of these heartbreaks have shaped the psyche of fans.
Finally, this was no longer an affliction for these fans. This past Raptors run, erased all the trepidation and turned the doubters into believers. Success was possible, even in Toronto sports.
Still high on that feeling, fans did not want to let go. That's why, when NBA free agency began at 6 pm on June 30, those same fans were glued to their computers, social media, sports news apps, and their televisions. All, just to find out where the man dubbed "King of the North" would choose to play ball next season.
Rumours and misinformation were spread, while fans speculated on Leonard's upcoming decision. It became fanatical. The man himself was hounded by fans, his whereabouts were spread online and even his most mundane activities, such as buying boxes at Home Depot set off myriad theories.
The hashtag #KawhiWatch began being used and spent an inordinate amount of time trending on Twitter. It was the first time this has happened for a Raptor. Leafs fans may recall that two summers ago similar circumstances surrounded the New York Islander, John Tavares. He ultimately decided to join the Leafs but only after #TavaresWatch consumed Toronto fans and the hockey world.
Things have changed in the Big Smoke. While the Leafs young star, Mitch Marner remains a restricted free agent without a contract, it is a basketball player garnering most of the attention. This is new ground for a metropolis that has always been passionate for their hockey team first and all others next.
The closest thing Toronto has experienced in being romanced by basketball was when Carter, then a Raptor, amazed at the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest. Vinsanity was born and brought with it exposure to the athlete, the Raptors, and the sport. The attention that's now on Leonard is at a whole new level.
The enthusiasm may have reached new heights when CP24, the 24 hour Toronto news outlet, tracked the plane believed to carry Leonard into the city. It broadcasted people debarking from a plane and entering into a black SUV. The channel then followed the vehicle by helicopter to share their most current update on Leonard's status. It goes without saying that this is abnormal for any celebrity.
Hopefully, this new passion is sustained no matter what Leonard decides. With more youth now interested in sport, this newfound love may materialize itself into further growth for Canadian basketball. It is also likely to fuel a growing Toronto Raptors fanbase, hungry to see the team repeat in 2020.
Time will tell what decision Leonard himself makes. Enjoy the ride Toronto because opportunities like #KawhiWatch don't happen every summer.