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Kawhi Life: One final ode to the city of Toronto

We made it to the end of the Raptors’ regular season. But Kawhi’s journey with Toronto is really just beginning. The post-season is on the way, and who knows, maybe more.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-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

In writing about Toronto and all its various events and neighbourhoods, its movie houses, political imbroglios, and more over the past year, my hope was to paint a vivid picture of what it feels like to exist in this city. A reader — like, say, noted basketball player Kawhi Leonard, perhaps — could scroll through the various columns and get a sense of what life is like in Toronto in 2019, or how it felt in the recent past, and maybe — with caveats — how it could be in the future. This last idea is where the Kawhi Life column really takes off, and how we’re now left wondering what’s next.

The Kawhi question is where things start, of course. The original impetus for this column was the idea that we could convince the Raptors’ best player to stay on past July 1st of this year, to truly embrace the city as his home for the next three, four, however many years he has left in his career. In truth, we knew this would be an impossible endeavour — I implied as much in each post’s italicized preamble. No one outside of Kawhi’s family (and maybe Masai Ujiri? Is that possible?) truly knows what he’s thinking about the city, or how his mind has come to change (or not) during his time in Canada. But we can sit here and envision it anyway, because why not keep that hope alive?

Toronto as a city is in that place too, that realm of uncertainty between doing the things we hope it will do, and... not. We can start with the mayoral election back in October, and track the stasis we continue to see on so many important matters and policies — be it transit, housing, infrastructure, and more. Or we can follow along with the ongoing provincial government travails of the present day (directed as they are by a legit maniac bully). In that frame of reference, it is indeed easy to worry. We can ask people how it feels to be priced out of their neighbourhoods, or ask why so many people are getting killed in the street by speeding vehicles, or wonder what it’s like to have to sleep outside in the cold. As much as we’d like to believe it, Toronto is not a perfect city. There’s no “meanwhile in Canada”-ing that — unless it’s to point our own unique brand of inhumanity.

I know I’m not the one to truly do this all justice. That vivid picture I wanted to paint is far too grand a project for a weekly goof-off column. But I do love Toronto, and I did want to try. In reality, it’s not all entirely doom-and-gloom here. For every column I wrote on the subject, there are hundreds more, other little slices of life that capture the power and progress elsewhere in this city. There are victories to be found, even if they feel small in the face of other, larger problems. (My recent favourite is the vote to make the King Street Pilot permanent, which has largely come to pass, thank goodness.) As always, it’s important to try to keep things in perspective, and to resist the call of cynicism, as powerful as it may seem sometimes. (Indeed, with Premier Sentient Loaf of Bread and Mayor Charlie Brown — to say nothing of the mess in America — it can be tough to stay positive at all.) If nothing else I hope this column has gotten us to remember something else: there was a time when we were certain Kawhi would leave Toronto. And now? I wonder. Things can change for the better, is my point.

There are still playoff games to be played, and sentiments of both love and hate to be shared in the city of Toronto. Are we finished with Kawhi Life for this season? Yes. But are we finished with Kawhi Leonard in Toronto? I say no. And just as that particular project will continue on into the playoffs — a positive outcome very much an open question for the Raptors at this point — we will continue to work on Toronto, as both concept and tangible community. At the very least we can take that feeling to heart, because really what’s the alternative? If the city isn’t growing, changing, and striving for something better, then all that’s left is the decay.

And no one who lives here should want that.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(But also, here’s hoping: yes.)