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Kawhi Leonard: Canadian hero

As I write this column, three days have passed since Toronto Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard hit an instantly legendary shot to vanquish the Philadelphia 76ers and advance to the conference finals of the NBA playoffs. By the time you read this, the Raptors will be well into its series against the Milwaukee Bucks. And I still can’t believe that shot.

If you didn’t watch Toronto’s game-seven victory, here’s a brief description. With four seconds left in the elimination game and the score tied 90-90, Leonard catches the inbound pass. As the clock ticks down, he dribbles a curving path into the corner, where he is picked up by the Sixer’s large star Joel Embiid. With less than half a second left, Leonard rises up with Embiid’s hand in his face and releases the ball, which arcs toward the net and bounces off the rim as the buzzer sounds. Watching at home, it looked like the ball would bounce out, forcing the game into overtime.

As the ball falls back toward the hoop, Leonard crouches out of bounds near the Raptor’s bench. Everyone – on the court, on the bench, in the arena – stands still. The ball bounces again, traces over to the opposite side of the hoop, bounces, bounces and drops through. The Raptors and their fans go wild.

I never realized four seconds could last an eternity.

This is the beauty of sports. In a time when we increasingly curate our own media experiences on our own schedules through streaming services, sporting events are among the last to reward live viewing with genuine surprises and thrill. In four seconds, Kawhi Leonard – who may no longer be a Raptor, come the start of next season – cemented his place in Toronto and Canadian basketball history.

I’ve had a soft spot for the Raptors since my parents brought home the newly-formed franchise’s shirt from a trip to Toronto when I was six. I’ve loved basketball since high school, and I’ve dedicatedly followed the team’s success since 2014. In the last five years, the team has progressively improved and, with Kawhi’s shot, they now have a legitimate chance to make it to the NBA Championship – a first in team history.

I’ll admit, when I found out the Raptors had traded fan and personal favourite DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for Leonard, I was conflicted. Rumours swirled Leonard’s true desire was to return to his native Los Angeles and wouldn’t be long for Toronto. Would the trade be worth it?

Leonard’s shot answered that question for me. I hope, against all probable indicators, that Kawhi re-signs with Toronto this summer, but even if he doesn’t, his presence has made this season a dream. Nothing encapsulates that better than his unbelievable shot.

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