The Toronto Raptors made the most important and impactful trade in franchise history a little over three years ago today, as they acquired disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs despite the fact that Leonard only had one year left on his deal and had his eyes set on Los Angeles.
Even with those factors, the Raptors rolled the dice, parting ways with DeMar DeRozan in order to acquire one of the unquestioned best players in the league. Arguably the best on-ball defender in the game, Leonard took his offensive game to new heights under Nick Nurse.
Before he was able to lead the Raptors to their first championship, or even step on the floor, Leonard had to face the media in his first interview with Toronto. Famously quiet and the furthest thing from boisterous, Kawhi gave us a meme that will live forever on NBA Twitter three years ago to the day.
When asked what he wanted Raptors fans to know about him, Leonard responded by saying that he is a “fun guy” in the most monotone, deadpan delivery ever. He then broke out his famously stilted laugh that still gets replayed on a loop endlessly on Twitter. What an iconic moment.
Kawhi Leonard was introduced to Toronto Raptors fans today.
While his press conference helped him get off to what we’ll charitably call a memorable start, Leonard managed to become a Raptors immortal thanks to his play on the court. Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game in the regular season before authoring one of the best postseason performances ever.
Only Michael Jordan in 1992 and LeBron James in 2018 scored more points in a single postseason than Leonard did in 2019. He managed to put up these numbers while hitting clutch shot after clutch shot and guarding the best player from the opposing team whenever he was on the floor.
Those who joked that Leonard plays basketball like a cyborg aren’t that far off. What he may lack in a gregarious personality he makes up for in almost unparalleled play on the court. He only lasted one year in Toronto before joining the Clippers, but what a historic year it was indeed.
As weird as it is to say, despite the fact that Kawhi helped make the Raptors champions while simultaneously establishing himself as one of the five or ten best players in the game, that iconic clip of him awkwardly laughing at his intro pressure might be one of the most enduring memories of his Raptors tenure in the eyes of rival fans.