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Kawhi Life: Have yourself a merry little Christmas

With the big day coming next week, we spent some time thinking about what Kawhi Leonard could get up to in Toronto celebrate the holiday season.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor — for at least one year. While the team’s on-court success has its part to play, we’ve decided to do our part in selling the city to the Klaw. Each week we’re talking Toronto, and letting Kawhi know what his life could be like here.

This Week in Toronto

There’s a secret here we’ve all talked about and can now openly admit, for the most part: we’re fine with the Raptors not playing on Christmas Day. Yes, I understand the prestige of it, the coolness of being associated with the league’s marquee slate of games. But I also can acknowledge that I don’t mind taking a break from watching, writing on, and, perhaps most significantly, worrying about the Raptors on a day saved for family fun and merriment. I suspect the players don’t exactly mind it either.

Of course, Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors will be out of Toronto from the 22nd on, returning on the 30th for a match against the Bulls. In between that they have to play Philly on Saturday, then head south to Miami on the 26th (not bad), and then stop by Orlando on the 28th before heading north of the border. It’s possible for the Raptors to venture back to Toronto in that three day Christmas break, but also distinctly likely that someone such as Kawhi will take the opportunity to visit family in California. Hard to blame him for that.

Nevertheless, a thought experiment: would Kawhi enjoy Toronto’s Christmas Market in the Distillery District?

Let’s unpack what it means to trek out to the Distillery District in the first place. I use the word “trek” because it often feels like the area itself was designed to be close to but distinctly separate from the downtown core. Of course, it’s a heritage site, one that can’t exactly pick up stakes and move, and yet divided as it is by the Gardiner Expressway to the south, the overlapping on-ramps of Eastern and Adelaide to the north, the indifference of the Esplanade to the west, and the rail lines and river to the east, it feels like it is way, way out there. Most drive and fight for parking, when really, a subway ride to Union or King plus a quick jaunt on a streetcar (thanks to the King pilot) would have you there in no time. Or you could just walk!

Upon arriving at the Distillery District, sealed off by its old-timey walls, classic brick buildings, and cobblestone streets, it’s easy to perhaps feel a tad overwhelmed — especially on a busy weekend (when you’ll have to pay a $6 admission to enter). There’s a lot going on down there, contained within the usual trio of shopping, dining, and events (my favourite of which may be the panettone cutting this Sunday at 1:00pm). Fortunately, the Christmas Market site also provides a handy map to help figure it all out. Seen from this vantage point the space appears far more manageable.

And while I’m not sure Kawhi is the kind of guy for it, the Christmas Market also provides endless opportunities for selfies and other spirited Christmas photos. People love the light tunnel, or Santa’s house, and, of course, the big tree set up in the centre of the district. It’s all a tad too cute for me, but I get it — I’m no Scrooge! Just search Instagram with the appropriate hashtags (no I don’t know what they are) and you’re sure to discover what I’m talking about here.

For future reference, there are some nice dining options in the Distillery District, even when various Christmas events are not happening there. I have a soft spot for El Catrin and the Mill Street Pub, for example. Meanwhile, let’s not discount the Young Centre, a live theatre venue putting on performances of A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan for most of the next week. (I saw a rendition of 12 Angry Men there a few years ago and it was quite good.)

In truth, I understand the impulse to avoid all of this gimmicky Christmas stuff. While the holiday season is supposed to offer a break from our normal lives, it often creates more frenzy than is advisable, what with all the shopping, eating, and straight hoofing around from one place to another. But then, there are worse problems and feelings to have — which is also something to keep in mind.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(But maybe now is the time to ask him Christmas questions? I have to say, this section is running on empty these past couple of weeks. Much like he does on the court, Leonard appears to now be anticipating questions he definitely does not want to address. In fact, he’s opening mused about forcing us to change our questions entirely, which puts him firmly into a weird Rowdy Roddy Piper position, but also doesn’t make the unease any less palpable.

I admit: not a ton of Christmas spirit here — even though Piper does admit to doing something out of the kindness of his heart, which is something. Still, happy holidays! And sure, have a happy new year.)