Raptors win first NBA championship as Leonard leads way

Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's why you miss birthdays and anniversaries, why you know hotel beds better than your own. It's why it feels like you spend more time in the air than on the ground, why you have to settle for FaceTime calls instead of hugs and kisses.

It's the back-to-backs, the late nights in cities across the country. It's never knowing what day of the week it is. It's taking photos of your hotel room number because they all jumble together.

It's why you grind through 82 games, why you put up with the sprains and strains, the bruises and the breaks. It's why you deal with the internet trolls and the trade rumors.

You do all of that because when things break just right, when you get moments like this. The journey can end here, the smell of champagne following your every step because you've just bathed in it.

It's worth it because now you get to call yourself champions.

The Toronto Raptors capped their journey Thursday, slamming the door on Oracle Arena -- and maybe on the Golden State dynasty -- clinching their first NBA title with a 114-110 victory in Game 6.


Their journeys began all over the globe -- the executive from Nigeria, the coach who worked in England, the players from three different continents. None were picked in the top 14 of the NBA draft.

As soon as the final horn echoed, Kawhi Leonard lifted his hands to the sky while he opened the NBA's most closed mouth, a howl of celebration and vindication.

A year ago, he was an unhappy member of the San Antonio Spurs, someone who wanted to be traded, preferably to Los Angeles. He had a reputation to rebuild, a mysterious calf injury limiting him to only nine games in his last year with the Spurs.

"Last year, a lot of people were doubting me," Leonard said, his second NBA Finals MVP trophy nearby. "They thought I was either faking an injury or didn't want to play for a team. That was disappointing to me that that was out in the media, because I love the game of basketball. Like I always say, if we're not playing this game, if we're hurt, I mean you're down.


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