Waxahatchee Remembers Watching the Toronto Raptors' NBA Championship with "Tears in My Eyes"

"I became so enamoured by the enigma of Kawhi Leonard"

Photos: Molly Matalon (left), Chensiyuan via Wikipedia (right)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Apr 25, 2024

Remember when the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship? Despite not hailing from the team's home city or country, it's a time Waxahatchee will never forget.

Days after the Exclaim! cover star took the Massey Hall stage in the city, this author was forwarded Katie Crutchfield's January 2024 reflections on the Raptors' championship run, and what she took away in becoming a bigger sports fan while on tour with Kevin Morby.

"Around the spring of 2019, Kevin was on tour supporting his record Oh My God and I was taking time off to write what would become Saint Cloud. Because I wasn't busy and was bouncing off the walls, I hopped on the road with them quite a bit and felt a little like an extra bandmate. While we were on that tour the NBA playoffs were happening & Kevin liked to go to bars to watch the games when we could. Basketball (& football, hockey, baseball, etc.) games had always been static playing in the background of my life, but Kevin had a way of making every game like an episode of an amazing series show. Every player had a backstory and every team had something driving them beneath the surface. There were heroes and villains and underdogs, each with their own style and approach to the game, each filling a role that was unique to them. Every team had its own dynamic force, every night there was a new drama. And from the very first round of the playoffs there was a player I noticed and immediately recognized as special. His name is Kawhi Leonard and at the time he was playing for the Toronto Raptors."

Crutchfield writes that "Athletes, sort of like artists, are inherently mysterious. We demand to know what they're doing, how they're doing it, what they plan to do better and they give us stock answers while ultimately keeping their heads as in the game as possible amidst the chaos of it all. Personalities, especially big ones, emerge out of that mystery giving us these powerful leaders like [LeBron James] or these complicated antiheroes like Kevin Durant, but a lot of the soap opera that we see play out in the games is assumed or implied or created by us, the fans. It was like watching a silent movie with no subtitles. There's something really stimulating about filling in gaps for yourself and I became so enamoured by the enigma of Kawhi Leonard pretty much right away."

An extremely brief recap on the advent of Leonard in Toronto: following an injury-plagued season with the San Antonio Spurs that would keep him off the floor indefinitely, Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors in what was seen as an immensely risky move, given questions surrounding his health and the possibility of him leaving the city come the end of his contract. Through plenty of "load management" regular season games off, and the Raptors' medical staff working their magic, Leonard met and exceeded expectations in helping the NBA's lone Canadian franchise to their first-ever title. Crutchfield writes, "I was and am pretty inspired by this whole vibe."

"Throughout the playoffs he was an obvious force to be reckoned with, continuously helping to propel the Raptors forward, giving very awkward interviews and subtly spreading the message that he does the NBA star thing his own way. I was completely obsessed and followed the playoffs so closely that I'd sometimes leave the stage from singing a song with Kevin to run backstage and see what was happening on the screen. I didn't miss a single game and I watched the Toronto Raptors win the finals that year in 6 games with tears in my eyes. Kawhi was the MVP.

"What I think about this looking back, now a fan of basically all major sports, is that seeing people have discipline and razor-sharp focus on something they love was an example I needed in my life. I learned that there are always a million ways to be great at what you love and we're on our own to figure out what's gonna make us great and implement it."

Read Exclaim!'s review of Waxahatchee's Toronto concert behind 2024 album Tigers Blood.

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