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Kawhi Life: On a return home to Toronto

With the Raptors returning to the court this week, and DeMar DeRozan returning to Toronto, we reflect on what it is that makes home special.

NBA: All Star Game Bob Donnan-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

I’ve just landed after many hours of air travel. I’m picked up at the airport and delivered to the house of my parents in Rexdale. It remains my longest tenured dwelling — almost 20 years of my life spent within its walls. (The first six years were spent in a different house nearby; how close? We kept the same postal code and phone number upon our relocation.) I still carry a key to this house, despite having not lived in it for almost 10 years. My memories now reel out from locations in the Annex and Bloorcourt. I know I’m lucky, and back just in time for the Raptors’ return to the court.

If, like Kawhi Leonard, you’re not from Toronto, the outer boroughs of the city may not hold much interest to you. The city’s alt-weeklies rarely venture much farther west than High Park, or more north than midtown. In recent years, if you’ve heard of Rexdale at all it’s probably unfortunately due to the legacy of the Fords (still inexplicably and crudely ongoing). Some would even say it doesn’t technically count as part of the city proper — but we don’t have to re-litigate the organizing principles of municipal amalgamation. My determining factor: if you can reach it via a TTC bus (shout out to the Wilson 96 and Kipling 45), then you’re in Toronto. Respect.

Still, there’s no real way to sum up home. We can describe our favourite places, the things that make a neighbourhood, but it doesn’t quite capture the mix of nostalgia and attachment that powers these emotions. I could of course be writing and reflecting on the institution that is Dr. Flea’s Flea Market, or the Fantasy Fair of Woodbine Mall (complete with ferris wheel!), or the winding bike trail of the Humber Ravine that snakes through through much of the neighbourhood. There are obviously even more specific places too — my local park where I learned to skate, the neighbourhood plaza, the old tobogganing hill, and whatever else alights upon my mind. I have no doubt that you've got your own list of locations, a mental map containing the area you call home. For my part, I don’t even have to think too hard about it. The memories remain there.

There’s another homecoming worth mentioning this week: that of DeMar DeRozan. For nine seasons, he did what he could for Toronto and made this place his home. We watched him grow and change and become the player he was always meant to be. That it wasn’t enough for the Raptors, or for us, is just a part of life. Sometimes you do indeed have to leave home (whether you want to or not) to find out who you are, to put yourself to the test, to create something new. And of course in DeRozan’s case, he’ll always have the key for Toronto in his back pocket. If nothing else, we owe him that for life. After all, he’s part of those memories now too.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(But we know Leonard has gone even farther afield, ending up in a hangar in Hamilton of all places. What’s more, after the recent All-Star festivities, Kawhi confirmed a few emotions and thoughts he had about Toronto. Here’s the excerpt:

Ultimately, this discussion of home vs. away with Leonard may all be moot. Does a person explore far and wide a space in which they don’t plan on staying? Or do they venture out to see what’s what and potentially have their mind changed? Both possibilities exist in this moment with Kawhi. And while I can’t make him forget his own personal Rexdale, I can tell him about the good in mind. We all can.)