4. Kawhi Leonard Departs
Kawhi Leonard left his mark on the Raptors and the city as a whole. He proved he was all-time great with his incredible play in the playoffs. That’s why it was such a big moment for all the wrong reasons when Leonard announced he would be joining the Los Angeles Clippers.
The summer of 2019 was dominated by Kawhi Watch. The media and fans documented every move that the star made and dissected it in an attempt to guess what decision Leonard would make about his basketball future.
CP24, the 24 hour Toronto news outlet, even provided real-time tracking of the plane route that brought Leonard into the Big Smoke. Viewers watched from a distance as passengers debarked the plane and immediately entered a black SUV. Naturally, thanks to the frenzy, the coverage then followed the vehicle by helicopter while the channel’s reporters shared updates on Leonard’s status.
Raptors fans did everything they could to keep Leonard with the organization including offering him a long list of freebies if he stayed with the Raps. Should Leonard have decided to stay in Toronto, he would have been treated like royalty. If he picked his movements carefully, he wouldn’t have had to pay for anything in the city, ever.
Unfortunately, Leonard ultimately wanted to return home and the Raptors were left without the best player to ever wear the jersey. While the team has been excellent this season, there’s no doubt that it would have been elite if it still had the superstar in the lineup.
3. The Shot
With the score even and just 4.2 seconds remaining in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Raptors and 76ers, Leonard let go of the biggest shot in franchise history. The ball floated to the rim clanking off it and for an instant appeared to be headed in the wrong direction, away from the cylinder. That would have sent the game to overtime, but that’s not what was in store for the Raptors that night.
Instead, with Leonard doing a deep squat and Embiid leaning over him watching, the ball kissed the rim four times then fell through the hoop and sent the Scotiabank Arena, the team, and Raptors fans everywhere into a frenzy.
By sinking his shot, the Raptors secured a second-round victory. The play itself would be immortalized in paintings, posters, and discussed among other great moments such as Michael Jordan‘s 1989 buzzer-beater against the Cleveland Cavaliers, previously dubbed “The Shot”. The biggest difference between the two incredible scenes was that Jordan’s dagger didn’t eventually lead to a title.
In Toronto, this play supersedes Bautista’s bat flip, George Chuvalo’s 15 rounds with Mohammed Ali at Maple Leafs Gardens, Donovan Bailey’s record-breaking run in the 1996 Olympics, and Geroge Armstrong’s empty-net goal in 1967 to secure the Toronto Maple Leafs final Stanley Cup victory.
With Embiid contesting, Leonard’s trigger and reaction were priceless. Thanks to the heavy implications of a made field goal and the drama of the slow-pace at which the ball was sunk, this should stand as one of the biggest plays in NBA history.