Following weeks of (mostly blind) speculation after the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA championship, it was revealed in early July that Kawhi Leonard would be leaving Toronto to join the Los Angeles Clippers.
The decision, especially considering it came after hoisting both the Larry O’Brien and Finals MVP trophies, had many in the basketball world surprised.
Former NBA star Gilbert Arenas wasn’t one of those people. In a recent interview with Fanatics View, he pointed to Toronto’s location being an issue.
“You gotta remember, most kids are coming from the hood... This is where my family and friends are. So, me going all the way to another country, my friends (and) family can’t get there. That’s already a conflict,” the three-time all-star stated.
“When someone like Kawhi is a free agent and you’re like, ‘Well, why would he leave? He just won a championship?’ Well, that’s exactly why he (chose to) leave. He already won two championships,” Arenas continued while referencing his previous title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. “What is he playing for now? Maybe he wants to play 41 home games in front of his mother, you know, for the first time in his career.”
Leonard was born and raised in California. This upcoming season — his ninth in the NBA — will be his first playing for a team from his home state.
Having finished his professional career with a season in China as a member of the Shanghai Sharks, Arenas knows the difficulties of leaving your home country for work. Now, there’s no doubt that there’s a difference between family members needing to board a plane to see you play in person compared to driving across the border into another country. However, both are barriers nonetheless.
Lou Williams — who played for the Raptors during the 2014-15 season — echoed a similar sentiment on Arenas’ podcast back in June.
“Once you’re there, you’ll love playing for the Raptors, you’ll love playing for the country,” he said. “Then, (during) that fourth, fifth month into the season, you’re like goddamn, I want to go home… When you play in Toronto, you feel like you’re playing overseas.”
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