Kawhi Leonard is a man of few words, but three of them are now plastered on a billboard at Yonge-Dundas Square.
The reigning NBA Finals MVP returns to Toronto on Wednesday night for the first time as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and with the help from his sponsor New Balance, appeared to leave a note atop one of Toronto’s busiest areas.
“Thank you Toronto,” the billboard message read, beside a photo of Leonard which appeared overnight.
Fred Safraz, who stopped to take a photo of the towering billboard, said Leonard deserves nothing but praise inspite of the basketball superstar opting to leave the Raptors at the end of a championship season.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment, him not being here,” Safraz said. “We’re grateful for everything he’s done for us.”
He said the fans should take a brief moment during Wednesday night’s game against the L.A. Clippers to show their gratitude for his epic season here.
“They should clap, to thank him, because he did something for us that we had never seen before.”
Michael Hutchinson took a moment out of his morning commute to snap a photo of the sign. He said the fans should cheer Leonard to show appreciation for his MVP performance he delivered.
“Without him we wouldn’t have won the championship,” he said. “We have to be thankful, but once he gets that ring on, and the game starts, it’s back to business.”
Atifa Rasoul said no one can discredit what Leonard did for Toronto basketball, so having a massive poster of him in the heart of the city “is appropriate.”
Donning a Raptors championship hat, Drek Kwiatkowski wasn’t mincing words about his thoughts of Leonard’s poster, when other players on the team also played a role in Toronto’s first NBA title.
“I give him respect, but, in the middle of Yonge-Dundas, they could have put somebody else,” he said.
After signing a three-year, $103 million deal in the off-season to play with the Clippers in his hometown, Raptors fans continue to follow Leonard closely. His return to Toronto has been highly anticipated and he’s expected to receive a warm welcome after leading the club to its first NBA title last season.
On Tuesday night, the Raptors released a message of their own on social media. The tribute video was captioned “Fun Guy in town” and featured a montage of Leonard’s greatest highlights with the Raptors.
The team also put up billboards at Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field to welcome Leonard back to town.
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The billboard from New Balance is a different approach from Leonard’s original thank you message to Raptors fans which turned into another viral moment on social media during his opening press conference with the Clippers.
“I want to thank the Toronto Raptors fans,” he said during an introductory news conference in Los Angeles back in July.
“I don’t have social media so I’m not able to put out a paragraph or whatever. Thank all of Toronto, the city, the country. It was amazing season.”
The Raptors plan to present Leonard with his NBA championship ring prior to the start of the 7 p.m. game at Scotiabank Arena. The team is asking fans to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. for the special ceremony.
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