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Want To Keep Kawhi Leonard, Raptors Fans? Stop Throwing Swag At Him

Try this instead.
Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors.

By Teneile Warren

If you woke up in remote proximity to the NBA and the Toronto Raptors, you know that history was made Thursday night. The Raptors are officially the NBA’s first-ever Canadian champions, after qualifying for the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Masai Ujiri’s ingenious master plan brought the current best player in the league, Kawhi Leonard, to Toronto.

Kawhi brought talent, heart and leadership to the Raptors game. His no-quit approach seems to have infected the rest of the team that beat the Milwaukee Bucks in a four-game winning streak after losing the first two games of the series. Kawhi Leonard was the missing piece of the Toronto Raptors puzzle; so, naturally, we want to keep him in Toronto.

On July 1, Kawhi Leonard has the option of entering free agency. Leonard’s playoff performance this season increases his value to any team and gives Leonard all the control. He can choose the team he wants. Toronto wants Kawhi to stay. Enter: Raptors Republic and Ka’wine and Dine.

Watch: Toronto’s campaign to keep Kawhi Leonard is over the top. Story continues below.

The goal of “Ka’wine and Dine” is base level, granola and oh-so-Toronto marketing. Offer Kawhi the city for free for the rest of his life and hopefully he will stay. Businesses across Toronto are flooding social media with whatever they can offer Kawhi Leonard for life, using the hashtag #KaWineandDine. So far, Kawhi has racked up a free penthouse, free CB2, free personalized hand painting on his clothes, free food from more than 50 restaurants, free railings for his deck, free real estate services, free grooming services, free basketball camp for his children, free electronics, free video games. Toronto has offered Kawhi Leonard a free life.

But the Ka’wine and Dine campaign designed to show appreciation for Kawhi Leonard has highlighted not just our obsession with the idea of materialism as every person’s dream; it has also made it painfully obvious that we don’t know Kawhi Leonard.

“Kawhi Leonard hasn’t spoken about many things, but he has spoken about his commitment to philanthropy.”

Kawhi Leonard is a self-professed “low-key guy.” He has no social media. He doesn’t like interviews and keeps his life very private. You will find a verified Twitter account that hasn’t been used since 2015. Kawhi’s teammates constantly reference his humility, his work ethic and his affinity for quiet time. Kawhi signed a $95-million contract with the San Antonio Spurs and drove his college car for the first year, and moved into a modest home with his mother.

So, why would Raptors Republic think a public campaign offering Kawhi Leonard Toronto on a platter would entice him to stay?

I won’t knock Raptors Republic’s enthusiasm or the businesses that have jumped on the bandwagon. I won’t comment on how quickly they were able to design a logo, website or build a campaign. I will make one outlandish suggestion that could strengthen the “Kawhi stay in Toronto” campaign: give back.

Kawhi Leonard hasn’t spoken about many things, but he has spoken about his commitment to philanthropy and being a role model for youth. He was inspired by the legacy of Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to play in the NBA.

“He was involved in the community a lot,” Leonard said. “He didn’t want to be known as just a basketball player. He wanted to be involved with the community.”

Kawhi has hosted camp for youth in San Diego, where he played college basketball, and Los Angeles, where he is from.

Here are a few ways to give back that I think Kawhi might approve of:

  • Identify youth sports programs that serve at-risk youth or underserved communities and make donations in Kawhi’s name. Donate basketballs, game-day food or gift certificates, or sponsor uniforms or tickets to Raptors games for next season. Kawhi Leonard has undoubtedly inspired a new generation of athletes across Toronto. Suggestion: Rexdale Community Health Centre’s boys’ bsketball league.
  • Support children’s charities that offer respite care for families, because Kawhi did. Respite care offers temporary, substitute living arrangements or special care in the home for children with disabilities in order to provide a brief period of relief or rest for family members and/or caregivers. Suggestion: Emily’s House. Bonus: Stipulate that your donations be used to support Black families.
  • Support any community program, charity or initiative of your choice.

The Ka’wine and Dine campaign may be all in fun, but it presents an opportunity to do something good. It presents an opportunity to show that sports fans do more than flood the streets and celebrate during playoff time. Kawhi Leonard cares about the community as much as he cares about the game. Let’s show him that we do, too, #KawhiandGive.

A version of this article originally appeared on

Teneile Warren is an artist with her hands. A chef and a playwright, she believes our words and our food are more intertwined than we think. She is the co-owner of nyam Revival Kitchen and a community advocate. She lives in Kitchener, Ont. with her wife and three “furbabies.” Pronoun: she/her. Follow Teneile on Twitter.

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