Former Toronto Raptors and now LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, receives his 2019 NBA championship ring from Raptors’ Kyle Lowry prior to NBA basketball action in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Former Toronto Raptors and now LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, receives his 2019 NBA championship ring from Raptors’ Kyle Lowry prior to NBA basketball action in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Raptors fans show Kawhi the love in his return to Toronto

Leonard receives championship ring, leads new club to win

TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard got his championship ring and a standing ovation Wednesday as Raptor fans showed him the love in his return to Toronto with the Los Angeles Clippers.

It was back to the future as the Scotiabank Arena crowd chanted MVP in his honour one more time. On the floor, Leonard exchanged pre-game greetings and hugs with Larry Tanenbaum and other MLSE board bosses, president Masai Ujiri, GM Bobby Webster and coach Nick Nurse before working his way around his former teammates.

Last up was point guard Kyle Lowry, who presented him with his egg-sized ring at centre court.

“Congratulations Kawhi. The North thanks you,” the PA announcer said.

Many of the fans who arrived early for the ring ceremony also left early as Leonard made the locals pay with 23 points, five rebounds and six assists in a 112-92 Clippers win. The former Raptor threw his body around with reckless abandon, diving on the floor in search of a loose ball in the second quarter and taking an inadvertent elbow to the face in the third without complaint.

Leonard came into the game averaging 25.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 18 games with the Clippers.

The six-foot-seven 225-pound Leonard was second in the line of Clippers snaking its way onto the floor for warmups and the crowd noise rose noticeably as he was shown on the scoreboard video screen.

Fans had been warned to arrive early for the ceremonies and arena was close to full during the anthems. The early arrivals included rapper/Raptors ambassador Drake, in his courtside perch.

“It’s always great to see guys get a ring, especially when they’re on your team now,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “This is a different one, though. It’s a really cool one because he was the leader of the group, coming back to get it in front of a crowd. I’ve never experienced it like this.”

The crowd noise swelled during the pre-game tribute video with Leonard and the other Clippers looking up to watch on the big screen.

The 110-second video went dark for several seconds building up to footage of Leonard’s four-bounce series winner against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern semifinal. Down below, Leonard’s ‘footsteps’ lit up on the floor and a spotlight shone on the basket where he hit the famous shot.

For some not looking in the right direction, it was hard to tell whether the dramatic pause was intended or not.

A private superstar, Leonard became part of Toronto sports lore with that shot.

Leonard’s latest load management challenge may be getting the ring through Customs. Manufacturer Baron Championship Rings of Windsor, Ont., says it is the largest-ever NBA championship ring — complete with more than 640 diamonds.

Of course, he has experience with such. Asked in the morning what he had done with the championship ring he won with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard offered one of his trademark no-nonsense, dry replies.

“I wore it a few times and then kept it in a safe place,” he said.

While he just played one season in Toronto, Leonard’s ties continue to run deep.

“I’m going to be connected with Kawhi for life because of what we achieved last year,” Nurse said prior to the game. “And all of us that were in that locker-room are.

“So we’ll give him his ring, we’ll shake his hand. Hopefully maybe even give him a big hug when we see him. And then when the ball goes up, the reality is we’ve got to get to playing and do everything we can to beat a great basketball team.”

While downtown billboards heralded his return, the 28-year-old Leonard faced a media throng at the morning shootaround.

Leonard’s five-minute scrum attracted 60-plus media members and a dozen cameras. An unfazed Leonard, who led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title in his one season north of the border, said simply he was happy to be back.

Leonard said prior to the morning shootaround that he expected a mixed reaction from the fans, despite the country’s past love affair with the NBA star of few words.

“They’ll be some cheers but definitely, I think, more boos because they want to win the game,” he said, engulfed by media courtside at Scotiabank Arena. “They’re not going to be cheering for a player that’s on the opposing team. They’re still rooting for the Raptors.”

READ MORE: ‘Build this man a statue’: Twitter responds to Leonard’s move to Clippers

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment laid out the welcome mat with tributes on giant video screens at Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field.

“Fun guy in town,” read the caption at the outdoor screen at Scotiabank Arena next to a photo of Leonard celebrating the NBA championship win.

“Board man gets his ring,” read the caption on the BMO Field screen beside a picture of Leonard holding up the trophy.

The references were to T-shirts Leonard famously wore.

At the downtown intersection of Yonge and Dundas, New Balance — a Leonard sponsor — and Leonard thanked the fans of Toronto on a giant billboard.

Leonard said he got “flashbacks” from the Raptors’ victory parade as the Clippers came to the arena Wednesday morning.

“Obviously it was different playing here for a whole country. They’re all going for this one team,” he said. “The ride (with the Raptors) was fun. I had a great time last year with the coaching staff, the front office and the players. It was a great experience.”

Leonard signed as a free agent with the Clippers in early July, less than a month after leading the Raptors to their first NBA title. He said he took his time making his decision, saying he thought long and hard about staying in Toronto.

“I gave it big consideration … I talked to the front office in deep detail,” he said. “It was a hard choice to make.”

He returned to his native California after the Clippers swung a deal to get Paul George from Oklahoma City in exchange for Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari plus five first-round draft picks.

Leonard signed a three-year max deal with the Clippers that could be worth nearly US$110 million, although the third season is at his option.

Leonard had an uneven game Nov. 11 when the two teams met in Los Angeles. Struggling on 2-for-11 shooting in the face of double coverage, he finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and nine turnovers in a 98-88 Clippers win.

“I think it would be really hard to make him go 2-for-11 with nine turnovers again. It would be really cool if we could do,” Nurse said with a chuckle prior to Wednesday’s game.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

NBA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Police Service cruiser. (File photo)
Surrey Police Service, CUPE sign staff transfer agreement from RCMP to new force

Chief Constable says there will be ‘no disruption’ to police service during transfer

Seed & Stone hopes to open a cannabis retail store in the old Giraffe Restaurant building on White Rock’s waterfront. (Seed & Stone rendering).
Council to decide on cannabis store proposed for White Rock beach

Councillors heard support and opposition at public hearing last week

SkyTrain running through Whalley. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Mayors’ Council wants feds to fund Surrey-Langley SkyTrain in upcoming budget

Mayors’ Council on regional transportation sent letter to federal government Monday

Spring Break kits available for free at Surrey Libraries branches. (submitted photo)
Free ‘Spring Break Kits’ for kids at Surrey Libraries

Children don’t need a library card to get a kit, but can sign up for one for free

An immunizer prepares to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site. (Fraser Health Authority photo)
North Delta COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open ‘in the coming weeks’

Clinic next to Delta City Hall opens March 15 for seniors 90+, Indigenous people 65+, Indigenous Elders

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Denise Stevenson

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Some of the hundreds of pounds of trash removed by divers last month from Abbotsford’s Walmsley Lake.(Henry Wang photo)
VIDEO: Divers remove 462 pounds of trash from Abbotsford lake

Walmsley Lake dive uncovers several tires, hundreds of drink containers and a tent

Trent Miner is returning to the Vancouver Giants, the team announced. He has been released by the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.(Rik Fedyck/Vancouver Giants)
Trent Miner returns to play goal for Vancouver Giants

Netminder was part of epic 11-game winning-streak by Langley-based team

Most Read