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Former Raptor Kawhi Leonard named AP’s Male Athlete of 2019

Few athletes can claim to have as good a year as Kawhi Leonard had in 2019. And all those major accomplishments of his? They happened right here in Toronto.

2019 NBA Finals - Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Now that Kawhi Leonard is no longer technically a Toronto Raptor, the words don’t quite register as they used to. He’s a Los Angeles Clipper now, but it wasn’t so long ago — this calendar year, in fact — when we would hang onto every Kawhi-related word. And why not? He was the most talented player the Raptors have ever had, and he led the squad all the way to a championship. He was — and, sure, is — undoubtedly worthy of our attention.

In that spirit, it’s been announced that the Associated Press’ (AP) Male Athlete of the Year is none other than Kawhi Leonard.

The reasons for reflecting on this accomplishment now, even as Kawhi puts in work for the Clippers, are obvious. Nevertheless, let’s work backwards.

In the past 365 days, Kawhi won the NBA championship for Toronto. He won his second Finals MVP while playing for the Raptors. He conqured the Eastern Conference Finals in four straight games (on one good leg). He hit the Shot. He got us all to chill after dropping another Game 1 at home. He was on the All-NBA second team and an All-Star. He snagged a Player of the Week award. And that’s just considering his time in Toronto from January 1 to June 30, 2019.

Along the way, Kawhi also gifted us with a pair of delightful turns of phrase that will likely be associated with his “brand” until he retires: any and all Board Man references and “What it do, baby?” (I’m not even mentioning “Fun Guy” and “Load Management” because technically both are from 2018.) For a player who has sought to subvert the spotlight every chance he’s gotten, Kawhi has somehow been responsible for creating all of these indelible cultural memes, sound-bites, and images. Just another thing to add to his legacy.

We’d be remiss, of course, in not mentioning what happened with Kawhi from July onwards. For the first half of the month, huge swaths of Canada went, quite frankly, insane with Kawhi mania, so gripped were we as a nation regarding his free agent plans. There were various pleas for Leonard to re-sign in Toronto, various airplanes were tracked, some wild deals were floated, but as we all know now: Kawhi was likely always headed to Los Angeles. He immediately turned the Clippers into a Finals contender, such is his presence — and something else of which to make note.

We already know that in Toronto though. Know it through and through. And while Kawhi Leonard was only a Raptor and Toronto mans for half the year, the AP Male Athlete of the Year award will always be tied to the magnitude of what he did here with this team. Perhaps that’s a small comfort now as the championship discussion moves on, but it’s something we can remember — and cherish — forever.