The most Toronto thing about the Shot was not that it went in. The Shot going in was decidedly not Toronto. For it to be Toronto, to really capture the spirit of Toronto and, in particular, Toronto sports, the shot had to not go in. Yes, we are going to split infinitives on the one-year anniversary of Kawhi Leonard’s Shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. It’s that kind of day and that kind of memory, now a year old. The Raptors won the game, but it is just as easy — all too easy; way, way, way too easy — to imagine they hadn’t.
The most Toronto thing about the Shot is the comically long amount of time it took to go in. For the Raptors to find themselves in that situation was, of course and already, very much Toronto. But for the Shot to travel so high through the air as it did and then loudly hit the rim as it did and then bounce as it did — one, two, three, four times — really does make it the most Toronto thing. It wasn’t enough for it to just go in. The ball had to spend enough time doing so to make sure we had time to envision all the possible future outcomes in play, the good or bad times to follow if the Shot did indeed miss.
Watch the clip again. By my count, a full four seconds pass after the ball leaves Kawhi’s hands. That’s more than enough time to imagine absolute ruin.
The chance to play the What If? game usually leads a person towards optimism. We have our regrets, we look back, and we wonder how things could be not just different, but better. Raptors fandom is littered with such moments, decisions in time where the team went one way instead of another. In the process, we’ve constructed an entire history out of the worst possible outcomes and then coupled it with a belief that the turn towards goodness had been right there all along — if only a different choice had been made or the ball had bounced a different way. It’s not the healthiest way to live, indulging that what if. We know we should grapple with the here and now instead. Yet the temptation does not go away.
Imagining how we’d feel if the Shot had not gone in is often too grim to consider. It’s the antithesis of where Raptors fandom finds itself today — yes, even as we quarantine ourselves from the present. Instead of looking back at past iterations of the Raptors with sadness and defeat, with feelings of what could have been, we can remember how awesome it felt to live in that moment of extreme terror — for four full seconds — and just embrace the impossible jubilation that followed. In short, we can ascribe it all to some unseen master plan. Yes, it was not a Toronto thing, yet it immediately felt like the most Toronto thing. We fans hadn’t really done anything to help the Raptors win Game 7, or to will Kawhi’s shot into the net, but it was easy — all to easy; way, way, way too easy — to feel like we’d earned it nonetheless.
What if the Shot didn’t go in? We know the facts of the moment. It would have meant overtime, and possible defeat. It could have led to a longer term turning of fortunes in Toronto, an outcome that would have slowly pushed us from the comforting place in which we are now. I mean, can you imagine the Raptors as they re-tooled without Kawhi, without a championship, and now without the game itself? I won’t speak for you, but I can’t do it. My mind runs towards that obvious What If and then just stops. There’s a blank wall, a void, a space where the timeline runs out and disappears. In my mind’s eye the ball just bounces, and bounces, and bounces — and then it always goes in.