Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard takes a selfie holding his playoffs MVP trophy during the NBA basketball championship team's victory parade in Toronto, Monday, June 17, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Kawhi Effect

A look at the Toronto Raptors post-Leonardless era.

By Adrian Wallace


For the last three years, the Golden State Warriors had notoriously reigned over the NBA as the leagues’ dynastic champs. Kevin Durant, who was recruited for their second year title run, was arguably the Thanos of the NBA before getting dethroned. This year, it was Kawhi Leonard who snapped his fingers and brought home an infinity stone to the city of Toronto.

The Ship.

Though “ship” is really just short for “championship”, it holds just as much magnitude in its vessel meaning seeing how Leonard’s titanic display in the playoffs had the world lined up to watch ESPN on TNT like a Leonardo Di Caprio premiere. Not only did Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia Sixers eventually roll off the rim and “sink” through the net, but so did the hearts of every anti-fan who counted the Raptors out when they stole Game 6 from the Warriors in their home. The Raptors then went on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in the eastern conference finals and the rest was history—an NBA Championship for the first time ever. The Larry O’Brien trophy will now light up the Scotiabank Arena in the Raptors season opener where they will be presented their championship rings.

Out of Stock.

The Raptors’ winning the 2019 NBA Championship put the world of embroidery and merchandise in a frenzy. Perhaps they weren’t ready much less anticipating the Raptors to do the unthinkable, which resulted in NBA gear stores selling out merch quickly. In fact, some of those who had ordered merch following the championship-deciding victory are still waiting on it (respectively since June 13th). In turn, this gave local custom embroidery shops in the Greater Toronto Area like “We Print What You Want” and “Peace Collective” an opportunity for business to boom, and so it did. With limitless meme-worthy and historic moments created during the Raptors playoff run, shirts like toothless Fred Van Fleet were a hot commodity this summer.

Balance Restored.

The Raptors’ 2019 NBA Championship not only put merchandise businesses in a frenzy but the NBA’s free-agency as well. The “big three” has been the league’s decade-least long equivalent to a get rich quick scheme; which in the basketball world, means the best way to win a championship. Kawhi Leonard’s addition to the Raptors made them not just championship calibre contenders but winners, and sent the majority of teams into a rebuild. Next season, the NBA will see its most balanced order of rosters with no foreseeable “big threes” in any starting lineups.

Put Some Respect on the North.

After 24 years and their first championship, the NBA finally deemed the Raptors TV-worthy to play in their first airing Christmas day game. However, the trailer release of the latest NBA 2K game made it clear we still have a ways to go. Embarrassingly, the only feature the Raptors have in the worldwide trailer of the new NBA 2K title comes in the form of being dunked on by its championship saviour Kawhi Leonard, dawning his new LA Clippers jersey.

The “Calvery”.

A misspelled “cavalry” may or may not have been a play on Kevin Durant’s unfortunate Game 5 injury. Though it was originally reported as a calf strain, it was later diagnosed as an Achilles tendon injury. As for the call for replacement help, the Raptors made haste in signing Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Cameron Payne this off-season to help make up some of the loss of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Giannis 2021?

Word around the six is that the Raptors president Masai Ujuri and the league’s MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo have been bonding this summer in the off-season. Antetokounmpo becomes a free agent in 2021, and Masai appears to be locked into giving him a “taste of the Danforth”. 

Though Leonard ultimately decided to leave the Raptors to go home and play in LA, he left Toronto a championship winning memory that the city and the world will never forget. 

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