New Balance has released a shiny new billboard outside the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto welcoming home former Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard.
Wednesday night marks the first time Leonard will step on Scotiabank Arena hardwood after leading the Raptors to their first title in franchise history last June. Leonard was named Finals MVP in the matchup against the Golden State Warriors, which saw him become just the third player in NBA history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James) to win the prestigious award on two different teams.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment also got in on the festivities, putting up two billboards of its own to welcome back Leonard, one outside Scotiabank Arena and one at BMO Field.
After a nerve-wracking start to the off-season for Raptors fans in July — which even saw helicopters tracking Leonard’s movements — the 28-year-old announced that he was signing with his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, becoming the first Finals MVP to leave a championship team immediately after winning a title.
Los Angeles set themselves up to land Leonard by trading Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a bunch of draft picks (including five first rounders) for Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George.
The duo has the Clippers looking like an early title contender, despite dealing with some injury trouble. At the moment, they sit comfortably as the second seed in the Western Conference with an 18–7 record.
The Raptors, meanwhile, have gotten off to a surprising start despite the Leonard-sized gap left in the roster. Much of this has been thanks to budding superstar Pascal Siakam and the ever-improving Fred VanVleet, who have guided Toronto to a 16–7 record thus far.
Leonard has been under a load management program with the Clippers similar to the one he had with the Raptors, though he is not listed on the injury report for Wednesday’s game and is expected to play.