SportsFans in Canada and abroad mourn and reflect as Kawhi Leonard leaves the Raptors
‘Paparazzi’ Kawhi Leonard fans asked to back off
“Paparazzi” Raptors fans obsessed with keeping star player Kawhi Leonard in Toronto following the team’s historic NBA championship have a new way to lobby him to stay. A website — kawhiushouldstay.com — has been set up for fans to send “their heartfelt messages and sign petitions to Kawhi” without harassing him on the streets, Mayor John Tory announced Saturday. “The Toronto way says we do it quietly but in a determined way,” said Tory. “He should be given his privacy for now while he decides. … This a much better way for thousands upon thousands of people to ask him to stay.
TORONTO — Though his jersey may have said Toronto, Raptors fans across the country — and beyond — are in mourning after star player Kawhi Leonard opted to leave Canada's only NBA team.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP, who joined Toronto's team just a year ago when he was traded by the San Antonio Spurs, has reportedly signed with the LA Clippers after carrying the Raptors to the NBA Championship for the first time in franchise history last month.
William Om, a 27-year-old Raptors fan from Montreal, said it's painful to see an elite player come to Canada only to leave after such a brief period.
Petition asking Kawhi Leonard to stay reaches 20 per cent of its goal in one day
It’s only been a day since a petition asking Kawhi Leonard to stay with the Raptors was launched and it had already reached 20 per cent of its goal. As of Sunday, the petition has amassed more than 20,000 signatures out of its goal of 100,000. The campaign was announced on Saturday by Mayor John Tory alongside Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia and Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamad Fakih. Danny Green, who joined the team last July from the San Antonio Spurs alongside Leonard, is also entering free agency this month. Green said at an event on Saturday that he believes there’s a “higher percentage” that Leonard would continue with the Raptors.
"It hurts everybody, because of course we want to keep the best players," he said in a phone interview.
But he said Leonard has won over his allegiance, regardless of where he takes his talents. In fact, Om said he's already ordered a Clippers jersey with Leonard's name on the back.
"What happened in Toronto, the way he played and everything, made me admire him a little more," he said. "No matter where he goes I'll support him as a Clipper."
But while some fans such as Om are grateful for Leonard's efforts — #ThankYouKawhi was trending on Twitter Saturday after news of his departure broke — others are not so generous.
Andrew Ostasz, 33, of Hamilton said he was "disgusted" with the way Leonard left the team.
"The Raptors brought him here to give him every chance to succeed ... basically turned him into the top three player in the league," Ostasz said.
Lou Williams explains why it’s hard for Raptors to keep players
NBA veteran Lou Williams shared some interesting insight about why it’s difficult for the Toronto Raptors to keep players. The Raptors just won their first championship in franchise history and are trying to convince Kawhi Leonard to remain with them rather than sign elsewhere. Williams, a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner, played for the Raptors in the 2014-15 season. During an appearance on “The No Chill Podcast” with Gilbert Arenas and Mike Botticello, Williams provided some excellent insight about American players in Toronto. “Once you’re there, you’ll love playing for the Raptors, you’ll love playing for the country.
That sentiment was echoed by Manuel Lutz, who would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to watch the Raptors play from his home in southern Germany.
"As I heard it, I was furious. How could he do that?" the 40-year-old fan said.
But Lutz said his heart has softened in the time since the news came out. He now sees that it's best to let Leonard go.
"There is a saying in Germany, 'do not keep travellers from travelling', and that's the way I see the position right now," he said.
As the acceptance begins to settle in, fans are turning their attention to all that Leonard brought to the Raptors in his short time in Toronto.
"I never thought this would happen in my lifetime. I never thought I'd see Toronto win a championship," said Corey West, 38, of Halifax.
"You can't really be mad because he gave you the one thing that we wanted," West said. "It shouldn't tarnish his legacy because he did the one thing no one else really could and that was to lead us to a championship — So I think he should be remembered fondly."
—With files from Olivia Blackmore in Halifax, Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Brenna Owen in Vancouver.
Lidia Abraha, The Canadian Press
Masai Ujiri: ‘Don’t lose one second of sleep’ over Kawhi’s departure.
Masai Ujiri: ‘Don’t lose one second of sleep’ over Kawhi’s departure
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