By CATHAL KELLY
Monday, June 10, 2019
TORONTO -- On Sunday, they did a pulse check on Kawhi Leonard.
"As human beings, it's incredibly difficult not to think about the future. How do you stay present?" Leonard has a way of looking directly at people and beyond them at the same time, as if he's staring into the Matrix instead of a face. He was doing that then.
He took a while considering the question. Presumably, the one he'd heard was: "Given the sophistication of your central-processing unit, do you still consider yourself a human being?" "Obviously, as you said, human beings, we think in the future," Leonard said.
Then he explained how the future is actually the present. Or something like that. It was hard to follow. Since Leonard is a more highly evolved member of the species, it can be difficult for the rest of us to get where he's coming from.
It was at the news conference ahead of Monday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals, in which Toronto would win the NBA championship with a win over the visiting Golden State Warriors. As Sunday's presser stretched on, the Raptors star put his elbow on the table and leaned his entire head in his hand. He appeared to be drifting off. Human beings - they tire you out.
It is difficult to capture in writing precisely how bored Leonard seemed to be while talking about winning an NBA championship. You realized that this right here - that's what confidence looks like. It's going beyond anticipation into apathy.
Then Leonard was asked about a rumour he'd recently bought a house in Toronto, thereby increasing the odds he will resign here in a month's time.
"It didn't happen," Leonard said, paused for a beat and added, "... yet."
Later, the Raptors' Kyle Lowry was asked about being an "icon." He recoiled.
"I'm not ... that's a crazy question," Lowry said, delighted by the preposterousness of it all.
He'd already gone on about the fact that the only "heroes" in life are people such as his mom, those who work in anonymity to serve others.
It was a little thing, one that most fans will not register given the enormity of the occasion, but it was a moment. Maybe it was the moment. It's hard to see much right now.
This has become a highly charged time in our history, rather than just our sports history. It's been so long since anyone's won anything around here that everything just now seems full of meaning.
One of these micro-happenings will be the detail that explains it all. It probably hasn't happened yet. When it does, it will most likely be televised. But perhaps it will be something tossed off on the side, something that will only seem significant later.
So you're trying to pay attention.
Maybe it will turn out to be Phil Esposito scolding the country for its lack of faith.
From the perspective of 50 years on, that's a bigger moment than Paul Henderson's.
The Raptors are now in Summit Series territory. When this happens, rather than if, it will be a binding generational and national consequence. If you think it's epic now, give it a decade.
It gets you to thinking about how the Toronto Raptors - an outfit comprised nearly entirely of Americans - became the most "Canadian" Canadian team of the 21st century.
They weren't like this a year ago. They were a different sort of Canadian - fragile and unsure. The addition of Leonard remade the team's personality. They are all Leonard now - stony and purposeful, possessed of a swagger that borders on, but not does cross over into, impudence.
After winning Game 4 in California on Friday, to take a 3-1 lead in the series, a great deal was made of the postgame celebrations, or complete lack thereof. The Raptors exited the court as though they were doing a fire drill.
It was Leonard's default reaction, now being mimicked by a dozen others.
It was the moment you knew this is already over. Maybe that was it, the one.
Great teams rise to occasions. This one is doing that everywhere, not just on the basketball court. It's providing us with an example of the sort of grace under pressure that we like to think is a defining feature of our collective identity. The one that defies particularities of ancestry or geography, and just happens to everyone once they spend some time here.
It's fun to be reminded that that utopian vision of the sea-to-sea-to-sea is still a going concern in some corners. The Raptors are showing Canada how to be Canadian.
Of course, they don't see it that way.
That's how this sort of thing is supposed to work. Trying is not very Canadian. Simply being is more our way. Or, at least, that's the idea.
Someone mentioned the other day that Canada is the only country in the world founded by a department store. It's a good line because its falsity gets at something true. We don't have much history, or the sort of history we all talk about a lot. But for a few of us, we're all from somewhere else.
We bring our history along with us.
It's hard to agree on a Canadian identity or Canadian history or what makes us Canadian. That's why we lean so hard on sports to do this work - it's something frivolous that everyone can agree on.
If you ask someone about the Great Canadian Moment of their lifetime, it's probably got something to do with sports. Where you were when Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner, who you were with and the feeling it created in the country.
Nobody remembers exactly what happened before or after. But they can intimately revisit what it was like in the living room/bar/airport departure lounge when it happened.
Great events aren't about results.
They're about feelings. The Raptors are creating a lot of them at the moment. This isn't a basketball franchise any more. It's a dream factory.
When the championship eventually arrives, we're going to see that as the moment. Someone will do something photogenic - think Crosby spreading out his arms and roaring - and that will become the front-page picture that defines it.
But that's not it.
The moment you remember best will be yours alone. It's whatever you were thinking or feeling just as it happened, or just before. It's who's there with you. It's wherever you are when it happens. It's how your life is going in that instant, and how this all plays into the narrative of living.
Winning an NBA championship is great.
But the far greater thing the Raptors are about to accomplish is manufacturing, according to the most recent count, 37,058,856 moments.