NBA Playoffs, Toronto Raptors

Kawhi Leonard: King of the North, now and forever

You all crowned me your king. I never wanted it. I never asked for it. But I accepted it because the North is my home! It’s part of me, and I will never stop fighting for it, no matter the odds!

Being King of the North is a hard job.

For one, the North is cold. Very cold. Like, you need to find a big, furry animal and then make a coat out of it kind of cold. There also isn’t much to do other than eat, make babies, and kill animals to make coats out of.

Being King of a place where these are the only options can make being in charge somewhat hard. After all, a constituency of people with little to do isn’t easy to govern.

Toronto, judging from the two times I’ve been there personally and from what I otherwise know about the city, has more to do than the fictional home of Jon Snow. For one, the food is good, or at least I think it is based on this burger I ate one time at a place called the Stockyards that I saw on Triple D. Marijuana is also legal there. Most importantly, they have a streetcar system that reminds me of the trolley from Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood. It was delightful.

So no, Raptors fans shouldn’t be all that ungovernable. Yet, their previous leaders have struggled.

Immensely.

This could be due to an inferiority complex. Like the North, Canada is freaking huge, and yet is home to a lone franchise – the Starks of the NBA. It could also be a “I just feel more comfortable sleeping in my own bed” kind of thing, as Northern leaders traditionally have not done well in the South (especially come playoff time) and are often prone to choice language in retaliation to poor performance.

Whatever the reason, after years of the Vince Carters and DeMar DeRozans of the world losing their heads (ha) at the worst times, the North needed a real leader to get them some respect. To avenge the fallen. To conquer the southern invaders.

Not only did they get him, but he’s been better than advertised – better even than the man who would be King of the Seven Kingdoms, fire-breathing Mad Queen be damned.

This is not to diminish the accomplishments of Jon Snow, who even before next Sunday is a 30 for 30 waiting to happen. He went from mistaken bastard to King by popular vote all because he avenged his family’s honor in the Battle of the Bastards. This was no doubt a worthwhile feat, and he deserved every ounce of praise he received.

He also had major help. Kawhi’s Knights of the Vale are led by a still-figuring-it-out Paskal Siakam, Playoff Kyle Lowry, and Marc “do I have to shoot it now?” Gasol. The little girl who died and turned into a zombie might have been starting for the Raptors by now. It’s been rough.

And yet here they find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. Why? Because their king went into Sunday night as one of just four men to average 30 points on an effective field goal percentage over 60 in a postseason where they appeared in at least 10 games, joining LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He ended Sunday night with maybe the greatest series-ending buzzer beater in NBA history.

Did he take a few too many shots in the process? Sure. But with so much on the line, did he really want to leave this up to anyone else? All due respect to the Red Wedding, but Kawhi avenged years‘ worth of Toronto playoff failures with that one fadeaway jumper – failures that make anything a Lannister or Frey has ever done look tame in comparison. All the ghosts of playoffs past turned to ice crystals in an instant. They are forgotten. Gone. Poof.

This leaves us, of course, with an interesting question. Will the title of King of the North be enough for the conquering hero? Ambition is a bitch of a thing, as we saw in King’s Landing at roughly the exact same moment Kawhi was ending the Sixers’ season.

While Jon Snow, the rightful heir to the throne, may have been happy spending his remaining years chillin’ atop the Wall with a pint of ale in one hand and a Wildling on the other, his (soon to be ex?) girlfriend’s aspirations appear to be quite a bit different.

On which end of the scale do Leonard’s desires rest? We won’t know until July, when we’ll find out whether power corrupts even the most even-keeled soul.

What we do know as we enter the final weeks of the NBA season and the final episode of maybe the last great television drama in history is that it doesn’t matter whether one seeks greatness or not; if one is deserving, greatness will find them.

Here’s betting that a week from now, despite his humility (and desire to keep dipping his sword into that forbidden dragon nectar), Jon Snow ends up exactly where he claims he doesn’t want to be: Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, for the betterment of all.

Kawhi’s ending, well…that’s far less clear.

Next: Turns out the Durant injury plot twist was merely a red herring

Will he eschew the loyal followers who helped elevate him to the position he’s in? Will he say “screw it,” and descend to the city that has housed almost every true ruler the sport has ever known? Will his uncle give him any advice in the process, and will it be any better than that which Tyrion Lannister has dispensed over the last several years?

We’ll find out the answers to all of these questions soon enough. Until then, let’s enjoy one of the great playoff rides that any player has ever allowed us to tag along for.

The title may be in dispute, but the greatness is unchallenged.

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