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Kawhi Life: The lost art of letting it roll in Toronto

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The Raptors and Kawhi Leonard have been getting back to basketball in fits and starts as of late. Is now the time to just relax and try to have a little fun together?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-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

Somewhere in the return of the Raptors to the court, the homecoming of one-time hero DeMar DeRozan, and my own journey back to Toronto from vacation across the Pacific Ocean, I started thinking about bowling. I realize this is a leap, but stay with me here. I’ll explain.

One of the few bowling alleys left in Toronto proper is actually located in Rexdale, my home neighbourhood. In my sleep-deprived state last Thursday (I may still be grappling with jet lag), I forgot to include the Rexdale Bowlerama in my modest list of noteworthy places in that particular area to visit. Like many bowling alleys, it’s an encapsulation of a certain time and place (I mean, just look again at its website). Case in point: despite the fact you’re not allowed to smoke indoors anymore, its august halls still evoke that smoke-filled history. Did I attend or host at least one birthday party there as a kid? Even through the haze of indistinct memory I can confirm: yes, of course. Everyone seems to have some kind of connection to bowling.

Nevertheless, bowling alleys in Toronto have been slowly disappearing as a business for some time now. When you think about it, this makes a sort of sense — even if the logic involved is a tad disappointing. On the one hand, bowling as a sport does not appear to hold the same cultural cache it once did. And on the other hand, the operation of a bowling alley just, well... it takes up a lot of space. Who could blame a building owner for deciding it no longer wanted to invest in the scale and maintenance required for a sport with a distinct shrinking lack of interest? Less than two years ago, BlogTO fashioned a list of the bowling alleys in Toronto and at least two of them are now closed or slated soon for demolition.

(For the record: Bathurst Bowlerama and Newtonbrook Bowlerama are both soon to be replaced with new developments. And West Bowlerama is, unless I’m wildly mistaken, already gone. So hmm, maybe it’s just the Bowlerama franchise itself that is no longer as viable? Someone needs to do a deep dive on this.)

For the spots that are still open on that list, I can vouch for The Ballroom as a reasonable downtown option, even if it does skew more towards the pub/entertainment side of things and away from the retrograde feel of a true bowling alley. And yes, it’s in that weird tourist-trap dead zone on John Street, but its proximity to the downtown core is a decided virtue. (And it has no competition in that regard.) There’s considerably more charm to be found at spots like North Park Bowl or even Playtime Bowl though, with the latter also offering other entertainment options (like laser tag!). Does location matter as much when you’re deciding on a spot to roll a few frames? I’d argue, ultimately, no — a bowling alley becomes its own self-contained universe. (Though I cannot and also refuse to vouch for the east end bowling options. I’m positive Danforth Bowl has its partisans — and I am positive I’m not one of them.)

Now, thanks largely to Chris Paul and his ongoing love of the sport, I’ve long had the NBA and bowling linked in my head. There’s just something really discombobulating in watching Paul, one of the more animated and team-oriented (in his way) players in basketball, standing alone before a shining lane. And yet, there’s actually footage of Paul and his Banana Boat buddies enjoying a few frames for charity. Does said footage also include Kevin Durant announcing that bowling is his second love after basketball? I’m glad you asked — just watch for yourself.

Now I know what you’re thinking — what does this have to do with Kawhi Leonard? He’s not friends with those guys (as far as we know), and he’s never shown much of an inclination towards the game of bowling (also, as far as we know). If it’s no longer as cool a thing to do as it once was then what are we doing here? Well, I’m glad you asked that too, I swear, because guess what... it leads right into our next section.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(For all the hand-wringing about this Raptors team’s cohesiveness, maybe there’s something to the idea of Kawhi rallying the troops for a night out at the bowling alley. In point of fact, maybe it’s not his call to make. Maybe Kyle Lowry has to be the guy to summon the team together for an activity night and Kawhi is merely a joiner. Still, just putting it out there: there may be no better way to bond a group of people together than to invite them to a weird anachronistic space based around a strange throwback game enjoyed by... well, lots of people! Get into it in Toronto while you can Kawhi!

The jury is out on whether Kawhi’s massive hands would help or hurt his bowling game. Yet another reason for him to eventually try it out — sports science!)