The brilliant American songwriter Cole Porter wrote a song about a one-night stand; a part of which goes: “It was just one of those nights, just one of those fabulous flights; A trip to the moon on gossamer wings, just one of those things….So goodbye and Amen, here’s hoping we’ll meet now and then; It was great fun, but it was just one of those things.”
We didn’t think that a song written in 1935 could have so neatly describe the brilliant and fleeting presence of Kawhi Leonard, the man who brought his genius and an NBA title to Toronto and Canada.
In sport, there are rabid fans, occasional, tepid fans, and others who get drawn in and swept along on a wave of emotion that only sport can engender. Such was the fabulous flight of the Toronto Raptors as they took an entire country on an unforgettable journey to claim what is considered America’s greatest basketball trophy, the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
Before he arrived in Toronto, Leonard’s name was familiar mostly to the true basketball lifers; but most of the others accepted what they were told that he was a fine player with a great reputation. And that’s where it stood until he began to work his magic in the playoffs, the homestretch where the faint of heart has no place.
There Leonard led a worthy and talented cast of players, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, etal, against the best of the NBA. And each time he conquered them with remarkable athletic skills, with an eye that needed just a fleeting glance to record the location of every player, and a relentless drive that announced that Mr. Leonard is coming at you. The quiet man; never soft; always hard; always clean.
So when the news hit the town that Kahwi Leonard was returning to play in his home state, it fell like a freak snow storm in the middle of a summer that was just emerging. It was bad news to be losing one such as him, but only the rabid fan could claim to be shocked by it. And certainly, if some were caught by surprise it could not be said that Leonard sprung it.
When the quiet man arrived in Toronto a year ago, Leonard kept his counsel, spoke quietly and in a few words. His demeanor betrayed nothing more than a man who would prefer not being in the limelight. He seemed shy and didn’t speak a paragraph when a short sentence would do.
He said at the time that with the help of the Raptors’ medical staff he would take time to heal a thigh injury he sustained a year ago. He said that he was here on a quest to win the NBA championship for the Raptors and for himself. As to whether he will stay with Raptors after the one-year contract expires, he gave no answer one way or another. His well-rehearsed response was that he was here to play, to have fun, and do his utmost to win the trophy. He never wavered from that original statement despite the number of times he was asked the question.
Few athletes who were placed in that position could have sustained that position without