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Kyle Lowry on being ‘Mr. Raptor’ and the chase for a second championship ring

‘Like I’ve said, and I’ll say it now, I will sign a one-day contract and I’ll retire as a Toronto Raptor. That is my everything.’

Just because Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat will be away from their loved ones on Thanksgiving doesn’t mean they will order turkey with all the trimmings from room service at their Chicago hotel.

The new Heat guard told The Undefeated he is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at the team hotel cooked by his personal chef for the entire traveling party. And this Heat bonding event isn’t new for Lowry — he hosted Thanksgiving dinners on the road when he was with the Toronto Raptors.

“I know it’s important to have group bonding and group dinners,” Lowry told The Undefeated recently. “It’s important to not have ‘rah-rah’ dinners. Let’s hang out, man. Let’s get dinner. And it’s important at that time of the year, staff members, marketing or whoever it is, the social media folks. Everybody’s invited, because this is the only thing we can do.

“You ain’t going to sit in a room and order some damn turkey from the in-room dining. It’s just me, who I am. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I don’t worry about anything or anybody saying anything because I’m going to be me, no matter what the situation, the time. And that’s why I’m able to just do what I do.”

Lowry was deemed “Mr. Raptor” after giving his all to Toronto on and off the court for nine seasons. All six of his NBA All-Star appearances were with the Raptors. He averaged 17.5 points, 7.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds during his time in Toronto and played a key role in the franchise’s lone title in 2019. The Philadelphia native also was known in Toronto for his philanthropic work, which included hosting Canadian Thanksgiving for the less fortunate.

After leaving the Raptors in “great shape,” Lowry signed a three-year, $85 million contract with the Heat in the offseason. The 35-year-old’s main objective now is to win a second NBA championship as a member of the Heat. Lowry believes it’s possible with such Heat All-Stars as Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

Lowry played 601 regular-season games for the Raptors, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, his last game in Toronto was Feb. 28, 2020. With his love for the Raptors and the city in mind, he said he is nervous about his expected emotional return to Toronto as a member of the Heat on Feb. 3, 2022.

“I’m a man’s man, but I know I’m going to be a little bit sensitive and crying that day. I don’t know. I might hold it in,” Lowry said. “I’ve talked to [former Raptors teammate] DeMar [DeRozan] about it. But it’s one of them days where I know it’s going to be a lot of love for me and me giving love back, it’s just going to be interesting how it goes down because I don’t know what to expect.

“It’s different when you got traded from Memphis and you go back. I still get love from Memphis, which is awesome. I still get love from Houston. This is different because I continued to grow as a person in Toronto. So eight years in the city, one year I was in Tampa, but nine years overall with one franchise is a long time.”

Said former teammate Fred VanVleet: “That was a lot of money, man. I was very happy for him. We kind of knew it was leaning that way. What he meant to this, the team, the franchise, the country of Canada, it’s hard to put into words.”

The following is a Q&A with Lowry in which he talks about his time with the Raptors, not being able to properly say goodbye to Toronto, his relationship with Raptors president Masai Ujiri and former teammates, connecting on and off the court in Miami, his Thanksgivings with family in Philadelphia, giving back during Canadian Thanksgiving and much more.

Kyle Lowry of the Miami Heat during a game against the LA Clippers on Nov. 11 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

How tough was it to play for the Raptors in Tampa last season and in the NBA bubble a season before due to the pandemic?

It was ridiculous. I had a house in Toronto. I still have stuff in the storage up there that was in my home, my kids’ stuff, paintings and schoolwork. It just sucks that I didn’t have a chance to play a game there since February of 2020. We were going on a West Coast trip and we had played Utah and then the pandemic hit. My kids were already on spring break and then I didn’t go back. I went straight to my hometown of Philly and it was definitely tough.

Toronto was home. That was legit home. You’re spending September to June there because your kids are at school in Toronto, and to not be able to go there, it was like, ‘Damn, when will I ever go back to actually enjoy the city?’ I went back there last offseason. I had dinner and it was good just having that chance to go and sit down there. And this season, I think we’ve got three days there. I’m not looking forward to [the emotion].

Was it a hard decision to depart to the Heat?

I had a great rapport with Masai and [general manager] Bobby [Webster] throughout this whole last year of the pandemic. We came off the [2018-19 season] where we were champions and were playing well. We went to the bubble and we lost to Boston. And then that next season, losing Serge [Ibaka] and Marc [Gasol], us being displaced, it was like, ‘All right, we have an open line of communication with Masai and Bobby, my agent, myself — a lot of it because I have a relationship with those guys.’

I still text Bobby. I still text Masai. There are no hard feelings. We’ve all had an open line of communication. And for me, it was very bittersweet because I never wanted to leave. But it was more a sense of: ‘All right, my kids are getting older. I want to be somewhere where they can be stable no matter what.’

And, yeah, everybody says you could just live in Canada, but you’d have to get a Canadian citizenship to live there. And I don’t think I would’ve lived there for the rest of my life. But I’ll be able to go back. That’s still home. Like I’ve said, and I’ll say it now, I will sign a one-day contract and I’ll retire as a Toronto Raptor. That is my everything.

Do you want to work for the Raptors after you’re done playing?

I don’t know if I want to work in this league. Everybody’s saying it will be good. I respect our league. And my goals for what I’m thinking about as a league, I’m looking bigger than just working in the league. My goal is to create enough wealth where I can be part of something. But the sweet part about me leaving was, now Freddy [VanVleet] gets all the attention, OG [Anunoby] gets all the attention. Pascal [Siakam] gets even more of the attention. I left the franchise in a great place to my little brothers. They are truly my little brothers. No, they are family. They are equals to me. They’re just younger than me.

And I’ve left the franchise in a place where Pascal is an All-Star, right? He’s going to come back, have a great [season]. Freddy’s going to continue to get better. He’s going to emerge as an even better leader. They’re guys who are still young. OG, you see his emergence as the offensive player. They will get more of the attention now. I would take all the blame because I wanted to. I never wanted them to have to deal with that stuff, because I just felt I could take the world on my shoulders. And they can, too, but now it’s theirs. I left the franchise in a great place.

They’re taking it from me and saying, ‘We got you.’ And it’s a proud moment. I still watch their games. I’ve talked to Freddy. I’ve talked to OG and I’ve texted Pascal before his first game. I still talk to [ex-Raptors guard] Norm [Powell]. We’ve created bonds that we will have forever. And those are people, those are kids and guys that are men now that I’ll support and cheer for no matter what the situation is.

Is it important for you to try to win another NBA championship ring before you retire?

It’s what we play for. If you’re not playing to win the championship, what are you playing for? Just to be cool and be good? We’re going to get paid. That’s awesome. I love getting paid, but I want to win the championship and everyone that’s won a championship will explain this and understand that this is a high you cannot match. I’m not saying a drug high. I’m saying a high of, ‘Holy s—, this is crazy.’ You can’t match that.

And that’s what you’re chasing. And you’re just chasing that feeling of how do you get back to that. And as a competitor, you want to still be known as one of the best in the world. I love my ring, but I want to have another one. I want to be able to wear two of them. I’ve got an [Olympic] gold medal. It was a great feeling. I got an NBA championship. I need to get back to that. How do you get back to that high? How do you get back to that feeling? And that’s what we play for. So yes, I want it really bad.

Why the Heat?

It was the right situation. It was the right fit. And they had a need for someone like me in a sense of style of play, individually, how I move and how I operate. They also had talent in Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler, Duncan [Robinson], added P.J. [Tucker]. And I didn’t know we were getting P.J. until after I came. Markieff [Morris], Max Strus. You’ve got that Tyler Herro, OK. … Gabe [Vincent]. You’ve got hardworking guys. You’ve got U.D. [Udonis Haslem].

You’ve got guys who understand what it is that they want and they’re going to work hard. And you’ve got Coach Spo [Erik Spoelstra], and you’ve got [Heat president] Pat Riley, of course. Spo is really incredible in a sense of challenging players, understanding what we need, and he’s adjusted and adapted, from what I’ve been told.

This is my first year here, but it was the situation where I feel like they wanted to move the needle. They wanted to find a way to move the needle and no matter what my age is, I’m still able to move the needle. I’m still playing at a high level. My job is to make everybody else better, to make our team better.

Is it still weird to wear a different jersey after all these seasons playing in Toronto?

It’s still weird. [Utah Jazz forward] Joe Ingles said, ‘You look funny in that jersey.’ I try not to think about it because at the end of the day, it’s a different team. It’s a different situation. It’s not as weird now, but it was for the first month.

And Coach has adapted to me and allowed me to be me. And that’s important for a guy like myself who’s established. I’m 35. I’m a man. I know how to get things done.

I am curious how you came up with the name for your foundation, the Lowry Love Foundation.

I’ve never wanted attention for it. I never did it for anything other than to give back and it was more so like I’ve used all my money. Adidas has been a great sponsor. They’ve helped me with some of the charitable donations. But for the most part, it’s been money out of my pocket, giving back to it. And I’ve had an AAU program now since I was in the league. So for 16 years, I’ve had an AAU program. And I think we put a lot of kids in school, Division I, II, III.

For five straight years in Toronto, you and your wife, Ayahna, donated 200 Canadian Thanksgiving dinners and gifts to underserved communities and families. (Canadian Thanksgiving is held on the second Monday in October.) How did that all start?

Toronto was a city where I was spending most of my time. I wanted to do something for the city that I was playing in, the city that I was giving more my blood, sweat and tears to than any other city at the time. And I wanted to make sure that I was able to leave an impact and not just be there.

It’s not just you’re working there, but you’re living there. Your kids are growing up there. You’re growing as an individual there. Canada is one of the best places in the world, the nicest people, but they do have some poverty there, too.

What was Thanksgiving like for you growing up in Philadelphia?

It was good. I had my grandmother, my mom, my uncles, my aunt, my cousins. That was one of the holidays you’d gear up for. You’re saving the money for the turkeys and a good Thanksgiving dinner.

So we always had a very good Thanksgiving. And it’s not about the holiday. It’s about the family time. It’s a time where us in America and the Black people were able to hang out and get together. And it gave us a reason to be thankful for each other and gave us a reason to be around each other.

So it gave us a reason to bring your aunts, your uncles, your cousins together at my grandma’s house. We packed it in. How many people we’d have depended on the year. You’d go from anywhere from the seven to eight people that lived in the three-bedroom house to 25 people total on Thanksgiving. Just everybody coming in. Had the big table and the kids’ small table on the other side, all in this small rural house in North Philly.

Your wife and two young sons won’t be able to join you for Thanksgiving this year. How tough is that?

I missed my kid’s birthday in the bubble, so I don’t think it gets no tougher than that. There are just times where you miss things. My uncle recently passed; my grandmother passed in 2019. It’s a day where it’s like, ‘Damn, I missed …’ That’s where you start to really miss your family and the camaraderie. And you’re like, ‘Damn, you’re getting older.’

You’re not around your brother. You’re not around your nephews, your cousins. You’re just with your team. But the good thing about technology is you’ll be able to FaceTime everybody, let them have fun at the house, even if it’s a two-minute conversation, ‘Hey, everybody, how y’all doing?’

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.