Raptors Twitter was ignited Saturday morning following reports that Kawhi Leonard will be signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
But instead of anger or resentment for a player deciding to leave Toronto after just one season, the Twitter outpouring showed a Raptors fan base that was filled with gratitude for a superstar who led them to their first NBA championship in franchise history less than a month ago.
“Retire his jersey and build this man a statue,” tweeted Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who grew up in Toronto while his father played for the Maple Leafs. “No one can ever take away what he has done for this city and this country. What a ride. Thank you Kawhi!”
Retire his jersey and build this man a statue. No one can ever take away what he has done for this city and this country. What a ride. Thank you Kawhi! 🐐🇨🇦🏀
— Max Domi (@max_domi) July 6, 2019
News of Leonard’s decision broke early Saturday morning, with a person familiar with the negotiations adding that the Clippers will be landing Leonard after they acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a massive trade for players and draft picks.
Leonard was arguably the most coveted prize in this year’s free agent market, and the 28-year-old met with several teams this week including the Lakers and Clippers — both in his hometown of Los Angeles — and the Raptors.
Canadian tennis player Denis Shapovalov, who grew up in nearby Richmond Hill, Ont., tweeted: “Welcome home Kawhi. Thanks for everything.”
The news ended months of speculation and angst for Raptors fans who awaited Leonard’s decision for days after free agency opened last Sunday.
No one seemed to know which way Leonard was leaning. Some, like former Raptor turned TV analyst Jalen Rose were certain the star would return to Toronto. Rose said on air days ago he was “99 per cent hearing” Leonard would re-sign.
“I was wrong. Dead wrong,” Rose tweeted Saturday. “No one saw this timeline or the Clips also adding PG! Wow!!!”
The top 10 Twitter trends in Toronto were about the move on Saturday morning. Hashtags #ThankYouKawhi and #ThankYouDanny, for Danny Green — who announced he was signing with the Lakers shortly after Leonard’s decision was reported — were both trending.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who frequently wore a black blazer adorned with gold Raptors logos during the post-season and at the championship parade, sent out a message to Leonard in a video posted to his Twitter account.
“Maybe he didn’t like the jacket,” Tory quipped at the start of the video.
Our #KawhiWatch has ended. #ThankYouKawhi for the NBA championship that you helped to bring to Toronto with your @Raptors teammates. #ThanksKawhi #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/04fVCECnIw
— John Tory (@JohnTory) July 6, 2019
“Kawhi, you brought us a championship and that’s important in this city. We haven’t had many of those in recent times and it’s going to get us on a very positive wavelength where we’re going to have more,” Tory continued. “And make no mistake, when you come back here there’s going to be no mercy. We’ll still love you but there’s going to be no mercy when you come back here and play our Raptors because they’re going to be in it and they’re going to win it again.
“We just wish we could do it with you but we wish you all the very best and we say thank you very much for the inspiration and the excitement that you brought to Toronto and for the winner that you helped to bring to Toronto with your Raptor teammates.”
UFC fighter Max Holloway, a Honolulu native and known Raptors supporter, said on Twitter that he was “grateful to be a fan.”
“Don’t have to follow basketball to know Kawhi helped bring a lot more than a championship to Toronto,” Holloway said. “I’m just grateful to be a fan and got to witness it. I’m super happy the champ gets to go home now.”
Canada’s Olympic athletes also showed their support for Leonard via social media, including former kayaker Adam van Koeverden, the gold medallist from the 2004 Athens Games.
“Fun (guy) while it lasted,” van Koeverden said, referencing one of Leonard’s first quotes with the Raptors — which New Balance transformed into an ad campaign during the playoff run. “Onwards and Upwards, #WeStillTheNorth.”
Canadian Olympic track star Aaron Brown tweeted a photoshopped picture of Leonard dunking the Larry O’Brien trophy over Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, who the Raptors beat in the Eastern Conference final.
“Kawhi Leonard will Forever be a Raptor Legend,” Brown said.
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press