Kawhi Leonard and Raptors exchange message of love via Toronto billboards
Excitement is in the air today as NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard prepares to make his first on-court appearance in Toronto since leaving the Raptors for L.A.
The 28-year-old California native, who famously led Toronto to its first-ever NBA championship last season, chose to sign with his hometown Clippers in July after just one season with the Raps — but not before a long, dramatic and embarrassing (for Toronto) period of deliberation.
Sad as Raptors fans may have been to lose their shot-acing saviour in shorts, most are simply grateful for the time he did spend here — Leonard himself included.
Ahead of Kawhi Leonard's return to Toronto tonight to face off against the team he helped win it all, New Balance put up this billboard outside the Eaton Centre.— Ruben Palacios (@RubenTalksKicks) December 11, 2019
A brief, Kawhi-esque "Thank you, Toronto."
Clippers-Raptors is at 7PM. pic.twitter.com/qM9HbpEVb8
With just hours to go before the Clippers face off against the Raptors at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena for the first time this season, a gigantic billboard has appeared in Yonge-Dundas Square featuring an image of the reigning NBA Finals MVP and the words "Thank you Toronto."
Erected by Leonard's sponsor, New Balance, the digital billboard is attracting praise from people all over the city.
"Wow, nice class by Kawhi…. his billboard sign thanking Toronto," commented one Twitter user.
"Toronto should buy the closest billboard to this one that says 'Thank You Kawhi,'" remarked another. "They both got what they needed at the time."
Also, here’s my take on how the Raptors should honour Kawhi: commission a statue of The Shot https://t.co/tkYAxFmt9v— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) December 11, 2019
As it turns out, they did. Kind of.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, appears to have launched a few billboards of its own to celebrate Leonard's return.
One billboard outside Scotiabank Arena shows an image of the two-time Finals MVP right after winning the championship with Toronto. "Fun guy in town," it reads.
The billboard that went up at Yonge/Dundas late last night was thanks to New Balance / Kawhi. These came from MLSE. They would have been visible to Leonard when he arrived in Toronto with the Clippers and I understand that they'll be on display all day today. pic.twitter.com/lLgUmJJuOR— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) December 11, 2019
A second billboard, displayed at BMO Field, shows Leonard hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy during Toronto's raucous NBA championship parade.
That one sates: "Board Man gets his ring" — an allusion to the rumoured ring presentation ceremony the Raps have lined up for Leonard ahead of tonight's game.
In addition to the billboards, the Toronto Raptors released a tribute video welcoming their former star back to town on Tuesday night.
To say it's all good between Leonard and the Raps would be an understatement.
Fun Guy in town. pic.twitter.com/RdAwMTuZES— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 11, 2019
Still, some fans worry that Leonard could be faced with boos upon his return to Scotiabank Arena (like he was in his first game as a Clipper against the obviously salty L.A. Lakers.)
"My love story with Kawhi ended the night he left... All these billboards and shit don't move me," wrote one Torontonian of New Balance's very public goodwill gesture. "We gave you Everything dawg, but he wanted to go home."
"All these Kawhi billboards are great," wrote another. "Except for the ptsd they bring to my heartbreak."
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