It was the photo seen around the NBA, the picture taken as Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater bounce, bounce, bounce, bounced its way around the rim, eventually dropping through the hoop to clinch the Raptors’ Eastern Conference semifinal win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia centre Joel Embiid is on the left, craning his neck from behind the backboard to get a look at the ball. Leonard, centre stage in the moment and the picture that captured it, is squatting, his tongue poking out from between his lips in concentration.
To his left, dressed in street clothes, is Jordan Loyd, also squatting, his mouth rounded into an “O” in awe.
Or, as Charles Barkley put it when the TNT broadcast crew dissected the viral picture, taken by the Star’s Rick Madonik, post-game: “Who is that dude in the picture with Kawhi?”
If you’re just jumping on the Raptors bandwagon as they prepare for the franchise’s first NBA Finals, beginning on Thursday against the Golden State Warriors, you might be asking yourself that same question. You might be asking it if you’ve followed them all year.
But Loyd still managed to pop up in the iconic photo, even if he can’t tell you how he got there.
“I was standing with everyone else originally … I didn’t know (Leonard) squatted, too. I just was, like, in the moment. I wasn’t focused on anything but the ball and the rim,” said Loyd, who didn’t see the picture until it blew up online after the win.
“I was like, ‘I don’t even remember how that happened,’” he said.
Loyd’s enthusiasm on the bench wasn’t reserved for that classic Game 7 shot. Raptors fans have previously noticed his exuberant courtside celebrations, such as when he jumped a foot in the air, and onto one of his teammates, when Leonard dunked on Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 6 of the East finals.
“Jordan Loyd needs a lifetime deal. Top tier bench cele guy,” one Raptors fan posted on social media.
“You’re a legend J-Loyd,” wrote another fan. “They way you put on for your teammates is amazing man. Mad respect.”
Some fans don’t seem to care that Loyd hasn’t set foot on the court.
“Jordan Loyd is having an elite playoff run for the Raptors by making every big play even greater.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment of all came from the Twitter user who ranked Loyd’s celebrations above those of Toronto’s most talked-about fan, global ambassador and rapper Drake.
Loyd loves showing emotion on the court.
“When I’m on the bench I’m always trying to encourage my guys,” he said. “I just know I’ve got to bring something to the table. Obviously in practice I want to come here and be a scout team and do whatever I can to get the guys ready, but once the game has started, somebody’s got to be able to encourage and pump them up and give them energy because it’s tough out there.”
Loyd finds it more stressful to watch helplessly than to play in these high-pressure games, even though he says the Raptors bench is generally pretty even-keeled.
He tries to show the same spirit for all kinds of plays — layups, free throws, teammates checking in and out of the game — but knows it’s the game-changing plays that draw the most attention. Loyd has become pretty good at holding his teammates back after dunks this year.
“Everybody seems like they want to run on the court and I’m like, ‘I don’t think you can do that. That might be a fine or something,’” he said.
The secondary attention Loyd is drawing means the Atlanta native has had to up his wardrobe game, too. He is more of a sweatpants kind of guy, but jackets are required for non-active players on the bench.
“I’ve only got like two (jackets), so I need to go get another one,” Loyd said. “I wasn’t prepared for all these games this year.”
Loyd’s rookie season overall has been “more than I ever really dreamed of,” he said. Not playing right now is tough, but he is picking up on little things like spacing, defence, playing smart and developing routines, and is learning a lot from more experienced players like Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. He considers himself lucky to be part of this Raptors run.
And he has the perfect Kodak moment to remember it by.
“I’m definitely going to frame (the photo),” Loyd said. “It’s something you can look back on. It’s kind of an epic moment.”
Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy