It was a heck of a night that Thursday just two weeks ago as the Toronto Raptors lifted their first ever NBA Championship. The Euro contingent with the Raps was strong, with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka (Spain) and OG Anunoby (Great Britain) all part of the winning roster but the name that stands out most was finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Emmet Ryan spoke to the brains behind Ka’Wine and Dine, a movement aimed at offering a special incentive to get him to stay
Adam Robles is a lot of things. He’s a digital marketer, a Raptors fan, and a dude who knows what people want. As the Raptors prepared for another playoff push this year, he got thinking alongside the crew at Raptors Republic about how to make the biggest star in Toronto want to stay with the team. Thus Ka’Wine and Dine was born, a campaign to get restaurants to offer him free food for life if he re-signs with the Raptors. Robles spoke to me while still nursing his hangover on the Friday following that epic championship win over the Golden State Warriors. Despite the celebrations, Toronto wasn’t worse for wear.
“It’s relatively still intact, Canadians are relatively polite human beings so the streets are fine,” said Robles. “It was an idea we started with Raptors Republic and our agency partner Rethink Canada. It was just a fun idea to get the community involved, we have a ton of restaurants in the city and Kawhi is a huge foodie. We thought a lot of people would join but we never thought it would come to this.”
Launched back on 16 May, the day after the Raps lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks, the campaign got some local press before flat-out exploding. NBA on TNT’s Kristin Ledlow did a quick segment ahead of Game 3 and everybody started picking it up. Virality happened in a hurry. At last count Robles is certain of 600 establishments worldwide supporting Ka’Wine and Dine, but reckons it could be closer to 1,000. All these places offering Leonard free food for life if he remains a Raptor.
On top of that a realty business offered Leonard a multimillion dollar condo and other backers offered the cover his entire salary up front.
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“We’ve seen barbershops, dentists, legal advice businesses all joining up, wanting to play a part,” said Robles. “I’ve been a fan since 95 since they started, a lot of fans in the city have grown with the team. This has been a magical run, it’s surreal, it doesn’t feel real at all. Given everything we’ve gone through the last 5 or 6 years, getting blown out, getting embarrassed in the playoffs, running into the LeBron wall. To go through this now with Kawhi, coach Nurse in his first year, beating a dynasty…walking through the city after the game last night, I was just so happy. I’ve never seen the city like this. It’s incredible.”
Naturally the whole point of the campaign is to give Leonard more of a reason to stay in Toronto. While Robles hopes the free food helps, he feels the Raptors organisation has already done a lot to win over the superstar.
“I don’t think he’d stay because of Ka’Wine and Dine, that’s just an added extra. It’s a cool and interesting way for the community to show their love and support the Raptors,” said Robles.
“Based on what I know from following the team closely with Raptors Republic, three things matter to him above all. One is his health, two is his trust with the organisation, and three is winning. We’ve been able to accomplish all three.”
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Despite the famously quiet nature of Leonard in public, he has acknowledged the campaign publicly and other players on the Raps are naturally wondering if they can get free food.
“I know Norm [Powell] knows and is wondering if they’ll do anything for the other members of the squad,” said Robles.
Despite his work in digital marketing, Robles hasn’t really looked to capitalise on the wildly successful campaign for his own business. “I haven’t really attached Reach Agency to Ka’Wine and Dine, quite frankly that’s not the point. We’re not really looking to make anything off of this, it’s a completely community driven project and programme,” he said.
In the event of the worst case scenario, and Kawhi doesn’t sign. Robles is still certain he’ll get a warm welcome, although not necessrily with free food.
“Toronto is a big city, it’s not quiet but Canadians are respectful. We’re not going to be in his face, there aren’t paparazzi. If we see him on the street, we’d wave but we’d respect his privacy. He has a quiet confidence about him, he’s the opposite of a LeBron James. A lot of Torontonians are like that, comfortable in their own skin with quiet confidence. That aspect relates a lot to Kawhi,” he said.
“In the event that he doesn’t stay, and I feel 100 per cent that he will stay, he brought us a championship. Ka’Wine and Dine will probably not exist but we will respect him and pay tribute to him.”
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