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Kawhi Life: The suit doesn’t have to fit for Toronto

Kawhi Leonard has shown himself to be something of an outlier in the NBA, and, in a way, on the Raptors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as Toronto gears up for the playoffs.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-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

The season-long issue dogging Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors — besides the creation of the phrase “load management” — has been one of fit. For much of Toronto’s run this year, Kawhi has stood slightly apart from the team on offense while obviously pacing himself for the playoffs. He has nothing to prove in, say, March, but that hasn’t stopped eager Raps fans (myself included) from searching for any and all signs that Kawhi is seeing and making those extra passes while flicking the switch on for peak playoff mode with his squad. In short, we’d like Kawhi to fit in.

Like it or not, the Raptors still have a lot to prove in the post-season. Even with all the veteran know-how they’ve added, they still need to show they can play up to and overcome the elite competition they’ll face. Kawhi is a part of that now, even if his legacy is, in a sense, already secure. In other words, Leonard already embodies his part, we’re just waiting for him to look it while playing in a Raptors jersey. As he himself has admitted in no uncertain terms, that vision will only arrive when the regular season ends and the playoffs begin. We’ve known that all along too.

Since we happen to be talking about fit as a matter of function and timing, it just so happens the old school tailors of Tom’s Place are having a Warehouse Sale this weekend. I admit I can’t quite just recommend the spot outright, even given its “since 1958” pedigree. Truth be told, my lone experience there was a bit bewildering. The original store is crammed wall-to-wall with full suits, jackets, pants, ties, and every other bit of formal wear a person could imagine. A lot of time is spent navigating around the various displays and squeezing past other customers who are also browsing or trying things on, while also fending off helpful sales people. (This is maybe just me, but I don’t care for “helpful sales people.”)

Nevertheless, I’m sure Tom’s purported deals will be good, and while I’m not going to vouch for it specifically, I will vouch for it as a Toronto institution, situated as it is in one of the more singular neighbourhoods in Toronto: Kensington Market.

Bounded by College Street to the north, Spadina Avenue to the east, Dundas Street to the south, and Bathurst Street to the west, Kensington Market stands as one of the longest running, widest, and weirdest areas in Toronto. On the neighbourhood’s inner streets vintage clothing stores bump up against bars and restaurants, large ramshackle homes offer patio space out front, people walk every which way — especially on Sundays (though seriously, why would you drive through Kensington?) — and the character of the place is like no other spot in Toronto. Tom’s Place on Baldwin Avenue is just one such outlet, but there are all kinds of stores and depots in Kensington that can only really be found there.

In a city like Toronto, one constantly scrambling over itself to change in the most dramatic way possible, Kensington stands out. I mentioned longest running first up there because the Market’s historical resistance to large scale redevelopment — they made sure Starbucks didn’t move in, fended off a charge from Walmart, etc. — is now what makes it so unique. Yes, sometimes the business turnover is quite fast, with stores popping up and disappearing in disconcerting fashion; and it’s true that gentrification has still wormed its way in with more “upscale” outlets that have priced out some of the area’s actual customers. (I won’t even get into what the rents probably look like nowadays.) But the Kensington character has remained resilient throughout — with the local Bellevue Square Park even getting a recent upgrade to boot. Need more proof? The absurd garden car is still given pride of place on Augusta Avenue.

So what does this have to do with Kawhi? Is it he or the Raptors who have ultimately come to symbolize that potted plant of a vehicle sitting in the road in Kensington Market? The truth is a little of both: the Raptors and Leonard are both unique in their own ways, both singular, both resistant to some of the outside forces working on them. And together? Well, together they could do something special, even if they remain slightly at odds with each other. In truth, Toronto wouldn’t have it any other way.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(Kawhi is definitely not going to Tom’s Place to be followed around the story by a courteous, if insistent, Englishman who would like to sell him an extravagant suit. Leonard, like most NBA players, is at least semi-conscious of his style, which means old school tailored suits are just not the look he’s going for. Still, I do think Kawhi would enjoy some of the food options on display in Kensington, particularly the San Diego-esque Latin spread found in some of its quarters. We’d just need to convince Kawhi to hang around in the summer to truly enjoy, say, the patio at Ronnie’s or Cold Tea before turning in for the night.

Still, that fashion conundrum. While I highly doubt any of Kensington’s vintage shops could clothe Kawhi properly. But he could likely eventually find a vintage Raptors (or Spurs) jersey in town with his name on it. And besides, I think New Balance has Kawhi pretty well kitted out, even if his shoes in practice look a little... off. Go back to the headline: the suit doesn’t have to fit.)