Kawai Leonard had a franchise-defining moment with his Game 7 buzzer beater that sent the Raptors to the Conference Finals on Sunday night. Was it a bigger moment than the bat flip in Toronto?
Like many Canadian sports fans, I found myself glued to the screen on Sunday evening, especially during the fourth quarter of Game 7 between the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Unless you were in bed early on Sunday night and this is the first thing you’re reading today (shucks, thanks for starting the day with us, if that is somehow the case) you’re likely aware that Kawai Leonard hit a buzzer-beater that bounced on the rim FOUR times before it eventually fell through, sending the country into hysteria, and the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Talk of the instantly-infamous shot was the deserved topic of the evening on social media, which brings me to what I’m ultimately getting at here, and the link to the Toronto Blue Jays.
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Because sports fans love to debate almost anything, I noticed several posts that were discussing whether Kawai’s huge shot to lift the Raptors on Sunday might now be the biggest moment in Toronto sports history. As a bias baseball fan I immediately scoffed at the idea, but after reading through the comments of a few of the threads I’m at least willing to hear the argument.
In fact, I’ll go one step further and do my best to lay it out for you.
Here are at least some of the reasons why some Raptors/basketball fans think Sunday was a bigger moment for the city of Toronto.
- Just the 2nd trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history
- Coincidentally, one of the biggest Raptor playoff memories to date was Vince Carter missing a buzzer-beater against the 76ers in 2001, and Sunday brought redemption in a weird way.
- The Raptors are all-in and had to win. Not only was it Game 7, but it might legitimately be the last chance for this group. Leonard is a free agent, and the Raptors made a huge deal to get him to pursue a championship this season. Losing Sunday likely meant an immediate teardown and rebuild.
- The further the Raptors get in the playoffs, the better their chances of retaining Leonard. Sunday’s win may have given them a fighting chance in free agency.
And now, let’s take a look at how this significant moment in Canadian basketball history compares to other franchise-defining moments that happened just down the street.
To me, Joe Carter‘s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series trumps everything else, mainly because it ended the season and happened on the stage that many of us fantasize about as kids. A walk-off bomb to in the World Series? That’s the kinda thing that’s literally an “in your dreams” moment, and Carter lived it. However, I’ve understood the argument that because the Blue Jays had won the World Series in 1992 as well, it wasn’t as impactful on the city. That’s probably an exercise in semantics, but I’ll go with it anyway.
For that reason I’d like to compare what happened at the Scotiabank Arena on Sunday to the modern day benchmark for Blue Jay lore, the “bat-flip” from Jose Bautista.
- The home run advanced the Blue Jays to American League Championship series and sent the Texas Rangers packing.
- It was the first trip to the postseason for the Blue Jays since that walk-off home run from Carter back in 1993, and the fanbase was starved for a winner. After being down 2-1 earlier in the series and having their backs against the wall, the Blue Jays moved on the ALCS and the Rogers Centre went bonkers, along with baseball fans across the country.
- The series had been highly contentious, and Game 5 was full of drama that led to the climactic moment for Bautista
- And speaking of the veteran slugger, the home run felt like the weight of frustrations came off of both the two-time MVP home run champion, and from a tired fan base. Bautista had been a late-bloomer that got an opportunity in Toronto in his late-20’s, ran with it and flourished, and lived through the leaner years before those playoff teams in 2015 and 2016. It was poetic justice that he was the guy to hit the home run to send the Rangers home and lift his team to the next round.
Now, if it isn’t obvious already then I’ll just put it out there: I’m a much bigger fan of baseball than I am of basketball. I’m sure there are several storylines and talking points that I’m missing from the Raptors point of view, but I was initially surprised to see the debate at all, and eventually recognized it as legitimate. What happened on Sunday night is arguably the biggest moment in Raptor franchise history.
I still have to go with the Bautista home run, and maybe it’s because of the punches and brawls that came the following year that imprints it even more in my brain, or maybe it’s the freshness of what happened for Leonard and the Raptors on Sunday. That said, if I have to make a vote in a pointless debate for the sake of argument, I’ll stick with the bat-flip, even if I lost my mind when that stupid ball finally fell through the hope last night.