On June 14, 2019 the Toronto Raptors won the first NBA championship in franchise history. It was a monumental moment in Canadian sports history that was felt across the country. Many people, fans included, had their doubts going into playoffs. The Raptors had scarcely even been part of the conversation about championship contenders and it seemed as though few people took their chances seriously. But there was a turning point.
In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks the Raptors turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 victory. Game 6 came down to a tie with 4.2 seconds left on the clock. Kawhi Leonard got the ball and launched it from deep in the right corner. It bounced not once, not twice, but FOUR times before falling in. The odds of a ball bouncing four times on the rim and going in are absolutely ridiculous. If you were watching, it felt like an eternity. From the time the ball left his hands to the moment it fell in took over three full seconds. The bounces alone took 1.9 seconds. Enough time for Kawhi to squat down in that now iconic pose with his Gatorade stained tongue sticking out, before the whole stadium (and country) erupted.
This was the moment, it seemed, when people let go of the feeling that Toronto sports teams can never really get us there and started to believe. It was monumental for several reasons. Obviously the odds of that shot making it in to win the series were incredibly low. It was the first game 7 buzzer beater in NBA history. But the shot was also reminiscent of one taken by Vince Carter many years earlier that fell short, seemingly bringing the franchise full circle. The guy who took the shot, Kawhi, represented many things for Toronto fans. As a guy who “tries not to get too high or too low” he has always been extra-composed. But when that ball fell in he celebrated as much as anyone, pure unfiltered emotion. To be fair, the championship was won by the entire team, it certainly wasn’t a one-man-show, but there’s no denying that Kawhi was the face of this championship and the man who reinvigorated Toronto fans with hope. Though he’s no longer part of the team, those moments will never be forgotten.
I wanted to capture those two iconic snapshots because they hold within them intense energy and emotion. The first elicits that sense of debilitating suspense that we all felt for those excruciatingly long 4 bounces. The second is purely euphoric.