Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia (left) and Mayor John Tory (right) are shown during a press conference on Saturday morning.
Kawhi Leonard was instrumental in helping the Raptors win their first NBA title in franchise history and now it is time for the city to pay him back – by leaving him alone.
That’s the message from Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia.
Bhatia, who has famously attended every Raptors home game since the club’s formation, held a press conference alongside Mayor John Tory on Saturday morning to ask Torontonians to give Leonard some privacy should they see him out and about in the city.
The plea comes after fans posted photos of Leonard at several Toronto locations to social media, including the Cactus Club restaurant and a Home Depot.
“I am a fan myself and when I see a player who is a superstar, who is a two time MVP of the finals excitement comes,” Bhatia said. “We are just trying to say to the fans ‘yes we know you are very excited, you have reason to be excited but give him (Leonard) the space to eat where he wants to eat and shop where he wants to shop.’ If you see him say thank you and move on and let him enjoy himself.”
Many of the members of the Raptors left town following Monday’s victory parade but Leonard remained in the city.
On Tuesday he was photographed visiting Niagara Falls with his family and on Thursday he got a standing ovation from fans while sitting in the front row at a Blue Jays game.
Bhatia said that while most fans are just excited to see Leonard in person, some have played the role of “paparazzi” and have “not given him the space he deserves.”
He said that rather than bothering Leonard when he is trying to spend time with his family, Raptors fans should go to the website Kawhiushouldstay.com to thank him for bringing the NBA title to the city and urge him to resign with the Raptors.
Leonard, of course, can officially become a free agent at 6 p.m. on June 30.
“We all want Kawhi to stay with us and maybe repeat the championship again next year but give him some privacy,” Bhatia said. “Please sign on at this website and we will make sure that all of your comments are read by him personally on his own time.”
Leonard has offered few hints about future
Leonard has mostly remained mum on his future, though reports have suggested that both the Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers are considered frontrunners to sign him.
Asked about his plans for next season after the Raptors clinched the title on June 14, Leonard simply said that he would “think about that later.”
Speaking with reporters at Saturday’s news conference, Tory said that the idea behind Kawhiushouldstay.com is to give fans a way to express their passion for keeping Leonard in the city “the Toronto way.”
As of 2 p.m., more than 2,600 fans had already posted messages to the site. The goal is to collect 100,000 signatures.
“The Toronto way says we do it quietly but we do it in a determined way and make sure we get our voice heard,” Tory said.
It is unclear how long Leonard plans to stay in Toronto but Tory said that fans should just let him enjoy the city “because that too will get him to stay here.”