So, the news is out. After weeks and weeks of talk and speculation as to where the free-agency would take Toronto Raptor champion and MVP, Kawhi Leonard, a final decision has been announced. Sadly, it was not the outcome many Canadians were hoping for. Super-star and fan-favourite Kawhi will be heading off to California, to play for the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the upset and the heartbreak, in true Canadian style, fans are sending him on his way with nothing but love and good wishes. Now, one question remains, what happens with Kawhi Leonard's Jersey.
In the eyes of many, Kawhi Leonard has changed the face of Canadian basketball and opened up the sport to a whole demographic of people who learned to love the game by watching him play. He will be sorely missed, not only by his team-mates, but by Canadians country-wide, and many people believe he should be appropriately honoured for his historic play while he during his time at the Toronto Raptors.
Some fans believe that the best way to thank Kawhi for the 2019 NBA championship and to thank him for everything he did for Canadian basketball, is to honour him by retiring his famous #2 jersey. Although, not everybody agrees.
The act of retiring the number of an athlete’s jersey is pretty much the highest honour a sports team can bestow on a player. To retire a jersey number means that no future player on that team can ever play in that number jersey again. Because this honour is only reserved for the absolute best-of-the-best, retiring a jersey is pretty uncommon. That said, a player can sometimes get their number retired if they had a highly memorable career, if they broke numerous records, or if they devoted their whole life to a particular team.
Once a jersey is retired, it is referred to as "hanging from the rafters" as the shirt is, literally, left to hang in the team's home arena, and that is where it stays, supposedly for the rest of time. For many Raptors fans, this is where they believe Kawhi Leonard’s #2 jersey should be, hanging in the Scotiabank Area for the rest of eternity.
As it stands, the Toronto Raptors do not have any retired jerseys hanging in their home arena. Alongside the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic, they are the only teams who don’t have any retired numbers. This means that if Kawhi Leonard was to receive the honour of having his number retired from the Raptors, not only would nobody ever play for the Raptors in #2 again, but he would be the first player in Toronto basketball history to be awarded such a distinction.
Within minutes of the internet breaking the news that Kawhi would be leaving the Raptors to sign with the Clippers early Saturday morning, there were calls from Toronto Raptors fans to thank the player for his hard work with the highest honour imaginable, to retire his number. One fan said, “Put Kawhi on legends row. Retire his jersey don’t care. Guy came here. Conquered. Can’t even be mad he’s going home #ThankYouKawhi.”
This sentiment was mirrored in hundreds of tweets, as another added, “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!”
While Kawhi has undoubtedly been a force to be reckoned with for the Raptors, and without him, the Raptors are unlikely to have won the NBA championship, many Torontonians also feel that he probably doesn’t deserve to be the first player in Raptors history to have their number retired. Most significantly, fans argue, because he has not been playing with the Raptors for nearly long enough to be given such an honor.
In fact, some fans believe there are several players who should have their numbers retired before Leonard, including Kyle Lowry. One Raptors fan tweeted, “Retire Lowry’s jersey first, then maybe Kawhi but not for a long time.”
Another added, “#UnpopularOpinion even though Kawhi was the best player Toronto ever had, Kyle Lowry will always be the greatest RAPTOR ever. They need to retire his jersey.”
Despite the differences in opinion over whether Kawhi's jersey should be retired, there is one thing that everybody agrees on. It was a phenomenal NBA season, and Kawhi Leonard will be sorely missed in the Raptors, Toronto, and across Canada. It was one wild ride while it lasted, eh?