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Kawhi Life: Don’t be startled by Toronto’s cold weather

The Raptors have long been slagged for being a cold weather city north of the American border. But what if Kawhi Leonard is fine with that? What then?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics David Butler II-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

Take it from someone who has lived here his whole life: the winter cold of Toronto is always a bit of a surprise. Yes, I know in my bones that winter is indeed coming, that things are going to freeze, that I am going to be uncomfortable. It’s a fact of life I can acknowledge in the moment each and every year. But it’s also something I can conveniently forget in, say, July, when the sun could not shine any brighter, and the temperature rests in the low 30s (Celsius, obviously).

It’s why I never give much credence to the idea that pro basketball players wouldn’t want to come to Toronto because of the weather. “How bad could it be?,” I say. “We’ve got great spring and summer weather!,” I announce. “What’s the problem?,” I ask. And then comes the subsequent brutal reminder: it can get pretty gotdamn cold.

So then what’s a Torontonian, new or old, to do in this winter hell-scape?

Go skating, of course! Thanks to a general lack of piling snow (uh, thanks climate change), this winter has been relatively tame in mobility terms. It’s cold, sure, but the sun has been shining as of late, and it’s been easy to walk, drive, or even bike around. This also means there’s never been a better time to head to the local rink to slice into some fresh ice. (For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick with just outdoor ice rinks, since I don’t want to start listing off every hockey industrial complex across the GTA.)

First, a word of caution: I’m not suggesting you (or, more specifically, Kawhi Leonard) just roll up to any old rink and attempt to get in on a game of shinny hockey. In Kawhi’s specific case, I’d prefer he keep his athletic endeavours indoors and away from things like sharp blades, long pieces of wood, and unforgiving ice. In the more general case, you need to at least be halfway able to stay upright on a pair of skates to attempt ice hockey — if you can do a plough-stop you’re ahead of the game. If you’re not, it’s a quick and sure way to get hurt or concussed. Let’s stay safe out there.

So then, where to go for some general fun time skating? Well, we could start at the most famous rink in Toronto, the large public space in Nathan Phillips Square, located right in front of the now famous Toronto sign. It’s open pretty much all day (9am to 10pm), skate rentals are available, and you can carefully study the architecture of the supremely wild City Hall building. If nothing else, the Instagram photos you can achieve there are worth the visit.

Or we could head south from there and tempt fate by skating closer to the lake at either the Harbourfront Centre, or the Bentway Skating Trail. Both of these spots are open a bit later on weekends (11pm) and have skate rental options too. And unlike the usual rectangular rink configuration, both rinks function as more of a loop, with features and obstacles to move around as you skate. It adds a bit of extra interest to an activity that can get boring quick (sorry not sorry). Bonus points to the Bentway for being located in the previously dead space under the Gardiner Expressway. That’s urban renewal at its finest!

Finally, I have a soft spot for Mel Lastman’s Square in North York, but I don’t even have to overly recommend it. There are also cool rinks in Dufferin Grove park, or the little used, and equally twisty, rink spot in Greenwood Park. Some of these places have additional amenities, links to restaurants and places that sell hot cider; others are just a patch of ice. (The rink I grew up on was just a frozen tennis court.) The effect ends up being about the same. While I do consider basketball the best sport in the world, there is something satisfying and invigorating about putting on a pair of blades. Maybe give it a try this winter? I can’t believe I’m about to say this but, well, this is Canada after all.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(But this cold weather conundrum poses a bit of a two-fold problem. First, the obvious question: should we be concerned for Kawhi’s well-being when he’s out and about in Toronto’s cold, totally unprepared?

Or, if you follow through on the tweet chain above, should we revel in his embrace of said cold?

In the above thread, Canadian Press reporter Lori Ewing reveals that Kawhi was walking down Bay Street poorly dressed for winter conditions. As anyone who strolls around downtown can tell you, this is a fast way to being both extremely uncomfortable and at risk of catching a cold. As Michael Grange implies in the initial tweet, is Kawhi just going from his home to the arena with minimal contact with the outside world? Or, as this entire column posits: is Kawhi maybe now ready to lace up a pair of skates to glide into a new future with — a-ha! — the Toronto Raptors?)