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Kawhi Life: Maybe just roll the dice with Toronto

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The Raptors keep winning, even as it feels like they’re gambling on Kawhi Leonard’s talent an awful lot. Still, there are worse things to bet on.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-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

Back in 2010, Snakes and Lattes was set to open as the first of its kind in Toronto: a cafe featuring board games, lots and lots of board games. In retrospect, the idea is forehead-slapping in its obviousness. Why not introduce an eating and drinking establishment that also has racks of board games for people to enjoy while they get on with their eating and drinking?

At the time, it felt like there was some skepticism with the concept — especially in the early reviews which went on and on about the absence of free WiFi (it has since become standard in the place). Would people really pay five bucks just to spend an hour or two playing Scrabble or Settlers of Catan, would lattes and croissants be enough to make the Bloor Street address viable? Questions abounded. And yet, from my first visit on, Snakes and Lattes’ only problem has seemed to be too much success. Imagine that.

In the intervening eight years, the board game cafe idea exploded across the city, with various places — remember the Go Lounge in Parkdale? Or Castle at College/Spadina? — dotting the landscape. Some would point to these other failed business ventures as evidence that the board game bar restaurant has its limits. (I too was surprised that Castle didn’t make it, for example.) Or we could acknowledge that the other places failed because, well, they couldn’t compete with the powerful Snakes and Lattes brand.

If you’ve been to the original Snakes and Lattes location lately, you’ll notice two things: it has doubled in size, and it has stretched far beyond its original mandate of caffeinated beverages and a few shelves of board games. It’s now a fully licensed bar, with an expanded menu of food options, and piles and piles of new board games on sale in the front lobby space. It would be enough to note that first change though — the space doubling — as a true mark of success. It rarely happens on Bloor, and feels rarer still for a concept as seemingly out there as a pay-to-play space for board games. And yet, not only did that original space thrive, it actually demanded a second location.

After a brief false start on the north side of College Street with their first iteration of Snakes and Lagers, the S&L crew pounced on the much larger space vacated by the (dearly departed) Andy Poolhall on the street’s south side. Finally, there was room enough for gaming tables upon tables, and a full bar, and more gaming tables. Did I mention the gaming tables? Look, the biggest turnoff associated with Snakes and Lattes has always been the lines and wait times, so the fact that it is now far easier to go to one of two locations for some board gaming action with relatively little difficulty (peak times are still peak times, but it’s not as ridiculous as it was) is something of a boon. The success of this place just keeps growing!

There’s a neat parallel here with Kawhi Leonard — yes, it’s true. He came into the league as something of an unknown quantity, was traded for on draft day, began his career as quiet and unassuming as could be in the shadow of much larger and more significant legacies. And then: hey, Kawhi has gone on to carve up the league and seems to just... keep getting better? It’s a success story like perhaps no other.

Beyond the (forced) similarities: if Kawhi is ever looking for some low impact fun times (seriously, he’s had himself an intense week) to be shared between friends and family, he could do worse than jumping into Snakes and Lattes (or Lagers; though I imagine Kawhi is not a craft brew guy). I live in the neighbourhood, and if he needs someone to explain the finer points of Quoridor, a personal niche favourite of mine — well, Kawhi, hit me up.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(Though I do try to imagine what games Kawhi Leonard would be all about in his off time. Is he a long-form strategy thinker or does he like the classics? Like many other basketball players, are card games the thing that captures his imagination? Once again, questions abound.

At the very least, an entire series of photos could — should? — be commissioned showing Kawhi’s gigantic hands holding relatively benign board game-related objects like a pair of dice or the top hat piece from Monopoly. Wait, scratch that, there’s no way Leonard is wasting any of his time playing Monopoly. That game sucks.)