Gray Area: How I learned to say goodbye to DeMar and embrace Kawhi

Tim and Sid talk about the Kawhi Leonard picture and what it could mean for the Toronto Raptors.

Robert Gray is a Toronto-area writer and a devoted Raptors fan since Day 1. He’s been a fan since Walt Williams revolutionized the knee-high sock industry. He once asked Lamond Murray for an autograph in a convenience store and Murray thought he was being sarcastic.

I have a daily routine lately.

I wake up. I make the coffee. I check if Kawhi Leonard has said anything about the Toronto Raptors yet.

I go to work. I pretend to go for a bathroom break. I check to see if Kawhi has said anything about the Raptors yet.

I come home to my wife and 14 month old son, I pretend to go for a bathroom break…

This guy has me wrapped around his finger and he hasn’t even suited up for a game yet. I don’t think I’m alone.

I was on my way back from a road trip when I turned on Sportsnet 590 and heard that the Raps had dealt DeMar DeRozan for Leonard. I ran into my buddy’s auto garage to vent at him while he went about an oil change.

“Did I just hear that the Raptors sent DeMar packing?” I asked.

“Bro (he’s Woodbridge-ian). They blindsided your boy.”

Disgusted, I declared that I would boycott the upcoming season.

Too many things had me feeling disheartened. Between LeBron James leaving Cleveland for a second time, Boogie Cousins signing with the Golden State Warriors for Bruno Caboclo money, and the Raptors trading away the only player who has ever wanted to be here, I was done. I didn’t really know or care to know anything about how good of a player Leonard was.

Then a couple of days went by. The pain began to turn into something more akin to excitement.

“Well, maybe I’ll just check out some of his highlights,” I thought.

It turns out that the Internet is filled with endless highlight reels of Leonard absolutely smothering players — great players — with his defence. It was the one thing that I had always wished to see from DeRozan. Sneaky steals, cold-blooded blocks, impossible ball denials, cute dribbling attempts being squashed embarrassingly… there are too many to relay.

If Kawhi’s defence were a film, it would be a Johnny Cochrane biopic starring Gary Payton.

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“Well, maybe I’ll just check out his attributes,” I said. The giant freak-hands at the end of his Pterodactyl arms make the Spalding roundball look like a bocce ball; Kawhi’s hands are so big, it would be unprofessional for me to finish this sentence.

But perhaps what I deemed even more arousing than his on-court prowess is Leonard’s refreshingly minimal desire to let the world in on his off-court day-to-day affairs. The man rolls in silence. He prefers to fly under the radar and doesn’t need the constant approval of Internet followers. He’s a Luddite. He’s borderline Amish. He’s so quiet, he’s the Harpo Marx of the NBA.

It’s a hilarious paradox for a fanatic such as myself: the longer he stays silent, the more frustrated I become – and yet – the more I respect the man.

I myself, never had Facebook. Well, once for a week I pretended to be John Cougar Mellencamp and promised to play at a couple’s wedding vow renewal ceremony. I started a Twitter account last year and I think my six followers have heard from me twice.

Today’s typical NBA superstar is as far from “unplugged” as it gets. Many players have staffs built around them to ensure that their social media presence is where it “needs to be.” A player’s brand must remain relevant amongst the online populace these days. Sometimes these accounts are used for good — as a way to raise awareness about political injustices, for instance, and that is important. But most of the time the world is just getting to see snippets of topless workouts, or glimpses into fancy restaurants and luxury vacations.

Kawhi doesn’t seem to give a care about any of that nonsense. He’s not a brand, he’s just an incredibly terrifying basketball player. He’s a marketing company’s worst nightmare, and I absolutely love that about the guy.

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And so, as we wait in agonizing silence, the question that is burning on every Raptors fan’s mind is: Does he want to play here?

The speculative consensus seems to be a resounding “probably not.” From what I’ve read, and what I can guess, he wants to play in sunny California, where any millionaire in their right mind would want to live and play.

But who cares about what he wants, right? He has to play here. We get him for a year – whether he likes it or not.

Is it too much to ask that we all just step back from our furrows of worry, enjoy the moment and simply revel in the awesomeness of this situation?

I loved DeMar. I still do. He was loyal and hard-working and he did everything he was ever supposed to do for the Raptors – except get us to the Promised Land.

After the way this past season ended, I was beyond disappointed. It was so bad that I became indifferent. I was Holly McNarland. Numb.

Then, with one swift and unpredictable move, Masai the Magnificent did what he is famous for. He simultaneously pissed off and reinvigorated the whole fan base. You see, we, the North, are typically happy to have come close to winning; it’s not uncommon to hear a Canadian competitor, fresh off a narrow defeat, explain how it was an honour just to have participated.

That’s not Ujiri. With one bold move, he made a statement to the whole league that Toronto is not here to merely compete. We are here to win it all.

Do you remember the 1980s movie Can’t Buy Me Love starring the doctor from Grey’s Anatomy? No? Well, allow me to refresh your memory.

A nerdy and unpopular high-school student who, while cutting lawns for the summer, serendipitously finds himself in a position to financially strong-arm the prom queen into pretending that they are dating for senior year – all in an effort to bolster his student celebrity status.

Of course, by the end of the movie, the prom queen realizes that the nerdy lawn cutter is actually one hell of a catch and she chooses him over the other, better looking, more athletic, more popular suitors. But that only happens in the movies, right? Well, it happens in Oklahoma City too, apparently. And it could happen in Toronto as well.

Maybe money cant buy you love, but it’s about to buy us the most exciting season of basketball that this city has ever seen. I, for one, can’t wait.

I might even tweet about it.

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