We need to start with an apology: our bold prediction that the Toronto Raptors would win the NBA Championship in seven games was off base. In reality, it only took them six games to capture their first championship. It was an incredible win for the team, Kawhi Leonard, and the city of Toronto. They last saw a major sport championship in 1992 with the Blue Jays, but now, almost 30 years later, the taste is just as sweet.
Kawhi Leonard: Best in the World?
The Raptors’ season and championship were propelled by the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, who now has a legitimate argument as the best player in the world.
Kawhi came at the cost of DeMar DeRozan, a long time Toronto centerpiece. But Leonard healed those wounds immediately. He averaged 34.0 minutes and 26.6 points per game, both career highs, and massively increased his rebounding skill, up to 7.3 per game from 4.7 the season before.
In the playoffs, Leonard lifted his game to another level entirely. He averaged 39.1 minutes and 30.5 points, along with 9.1 rebounds. That performance helped carry his team through the first and second round, and put him in position to hit one of the most iconic shots in NBA history to close out the second round.
Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry were on the same page right from the start. pic.twitter.com/ScFQcsxSOV
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) June 14, 2019
That wasn’t enough for Leonard, though, as he would power his team through two more rounds and be named NBA Finals MVP. It’s an absolutely well-deserved honor, and regardless of whether he stays in the North or signs with a new team in free agency this summer, Toronto should have no regrets about the trade.
Other Raptors Stories
You might be tempted to believe that Khawi was the only player on the court, but he was bolstered by a cast of others. There is, of course, Kyle Lowry, the longtime centerpiece of the Raptors and close friend of DeRozan. For years, fans and the media criticized his playoff performances. Now, he’s an NBA champion.
There’s Masai Ujiri, the mastermind pulling the strings. He pulled the trigger on the Leonard trade, and despite rumors of his postgame activities, will remain a legend forever in the 416.
There’s Marc Gasol, a longtime humble superstar in Memphis. He moved to Toronto midseason and now has won his first NBA Championship. With his more famous brother, Pau, they are the first siblings to win NBA championships.
Fred VanVleet received the lone dissenting vote for Finals MVP. Undrafted out of Wichita State despite collegiate stardom, the sharpshooter found a home in Toronto. His 16 three-point shots were the most in NBA Finals history by a player coming off the bench.
There’s also Drake, 6 God, one of the most iconic sports fans in history. His support of the Raptors and trolling of the opposition was a storyline throughout the playoffs. Now, the man whose fandom was a curse is the public icon for the championship squad.
Jeremy Lin, once the biggest star in the league for a few weeks, has been a background player for many years. But now he’s a champion, something Carmelo Anthony and other Knicks players that drowned him out can never say.
Serge Ibaka was a centerpiece in the heyday of the Oklahoma City Thunder, until he quietly made his way from there to Orlando to Toronto. Now, he’s an NBA Champion, and as a speaker of four languages, he’s an international ambassador for the game.
The Drake curse is over.
Boogie Cousins took the biggest L ever.
We can't slander Kyle Lowry anymore.
Jeremy Lin has a ring before Melo.
Kawhi is the greatest Raptor of all time.
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) June 14, 2019
There are more stories to tell, but the biggest story is the city of Toronto. With the Maple Leafs’ massive acquisition of John Tavares last summer, few expected it to be the Raptors who would capture the hearts and minds of the city this season. But that they did, capturing the championship in the process.
They started from the bottom, now they’re here! Congratulations to the city of Toronto, the Raptors, and the entire country of Canada!