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Playoffs 2019

Toronto Raptors and Game of Thrones brought to life on Instagram by artist Richard Chen

Kawhi Leonard is sitting on the Iron Throne surrounded by his stable of Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard is sitting on the Iron Throne surrounded by his stable of Raptors. @richardchen.draws on Instagram

Who will be sitting on the Iron Throne when 2019 NBA Playoffs wrap up in June?

If you're a Raptors fan, it's fun to imagine a world in which Kawhi Leonard rules over the entire kingdom - being far more than simply the true King of the North. It's the outcome Masai Ujiri envisioned when deciding to trade for the former Finals MVP last summer, even if it meant dealing away the most decorated player in franchise history for one who might very well leave for nothing after just one season.

So far this postseason, Leonard has elevated his game to a stratosphere that no Raptors player has ever reached.

MORE: Five stats from Kawhi's epic Game 4

He's playing at a level that makes it feel as if Ujiri's high stakes roll of the dice might actually come up a winner. Could Leonard really lead the Raptors to the promised land? What would that even look like?

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That image of Leonard sitting on the throne is the vision of Richard Chen, a Toronto native who works as an art director at Tangent Studios, a short walk from Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto.

Chen's love for art stems from his sisters who inspired him from a young age. He'd tag along to attend art classes after school or on weekends and became known as the kid who doodled and drew cartoons in class. A huge fan of Disney movies, Chen was naturally drawn to any and all aspects of animation as it represented the intersection of his two true passions: drawing and film.

That ultimately led him to pursue a career in animation, working for creative studios and becoming fully entrenched in the production of movies and television shows. Recently while at Tangent, Chen served as the art director for the Netflix film NextGen, an animated movie starring John Krasinski (The Office), Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up) and Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live), among others.

Sometime just before the All-Star Game, Chen's sisters - his artistic source of inspiration from the very beginning - pushed him to apply his passion for drawing to another passion of his: the Toronto Raptors.

With Leonard set to star in the All-Star Game, he worked up that initial idea while drawing from the immense popularity of Game of Thrones and the #WeTheNorth hashtag that's been the social media rallying cry of the Raptors for serval seasons. The image itself is full of Raptors imagery: a throne shaped in the form of Kawhi's patented hand logo, a glowing basketball that plays the role of mystical, icy orb surrounded by snow, and three Raptors with visible breath in the cold, icy air of the north.

Look closer and you'll see even more. The letters "K" and "L" in the window panes, New Balance sneakers on Leonard's feet and the familiar Barney-esque purple and red hues that call back to the franchise's earliest days.

Those subtle easter eggs helped Chen's work resonate with fans on Instagram and became a calling card of sorts - the positive feedback from that first piece building momentum that led to even more.

Kawhi Leonard

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Chen's second crack at depicting Leonard came at the onset of the postseason as he wanted to spotlight Toronto's path forward into the playoffs.

The goal of this one?

"To show Kawhi staring down the challenges coming his way - unafraid."

MORE: Kawhi draws comparisons to Kobe

The scale is impressive with the sun rising to reveal a field teeming with row after row of foes. Off in the distance to the right? A dinosaur skull, perhaps symbolizing previously failed forays into the postseason and an opportunity to face the franchise's own skeletons, the internal demons which are every bit as menacing as the actual opponents.

Kyle Lowry

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Leading the charge alongside Leonard is Toronto's other All-Star, Kyle Lowry.

Though he may be diminutive in stature, Lowry stands tall as a fearless leader. Chen's vision? To present the veteran point guard as a field general, leading the team into battle fully suited up with Gladiator-like armour. The insignia on Lowry's chest plate? The OVO owl, a nod to none other than Drake (more on him later!).

MORE: Lowry on Leonard: "We've all gotta help him."

In addition to the Raptors banners in the background, notice the trampled banner of the Philadelphia 76ers on the ground next to the shattered helmet and sword of a fallen opponent.

Pascal Siakam

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After Chen's initial drawing of Leonard, the second was actually this depiction of Pascal Siakam who at the time was in the midst of becoming a breakout star.

To fully capture Spicy P's aggressive and attacking style, Chen put the energetic forward atop a fierce Raptors with flames behind him. Posted three days before Toronto's final game of the season against the Boston Celtics, a team many thought Toronto might see in the playoffs, this drawing includes a trampled Celtics logo on the ground and a burning banner in the background.

Perhaps the illustration foreshadowed Siakam's impending big game as three days later, he scored 25 points and was the leading scorer in Toronto's rout of Boston.

Danny Green

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Every army needs a trusty archer which is where Danny Green comes in.

The 3-point specialist is doing what else, but firing off three arrows at once while atop his sprinting Raptor.

Chen opted to go with a red and white Raptor in this one to represent the colours of the Canadian flag. You'll notice throughout each drawing the careful consideration of colour, specifically as it relates to the Raptors themselves.

"Sometimes you don't have to see it, sometimes you might just feel it. That's more the feeling that I want, I don't want to hit people in the head with Raptors colours all the time. I want it to be natural, I want it to be subtle, I want it to feel like you're watching a frame from a movie because that's what we do here in the studio and that's what I do."

In explaining his method, Chen wanted to ensure that the Raptors themselves represented the various eras throughout the team's history. Whether it's the call-back to the original "Barney" look in the first Kawhi drawing or the use of red and black in Lowry's depiction, no two Raptors are alike.

Marc Gasol

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Should the Raptors meet up with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals, the choice of a Bucks-themed Marc Gasol drawing couldn't be any more perfect given his brother, Pau, signed with the Bucks one day after Chen posted this to his Instagram account.

Gasol hunting alongside his Raptor companion and interacting in a personal manner draws comparisons to the similar ways in which fantasy elements are depicted in Game of Thrones with the relationships between humans and dragons. The inclusion of the Husky, bulked up to more resemble the look of a dire wolf, is yet another wink to the #WeTheNorth connection to Game of Thrones.

MORE: Can Marc Gasol slow down Joel Embiid?

The consistent plotting of smart and subtle easter eggs throughout Chen's various pieces of art is ever present here with the inclusion of that Husky, a nod to the Toronto Huskies who played one year in the BAA in 1946-47 which is recognized as the first official season in NBA history. The Huskies actually played in the first game in NBA history, losing 68-66 to the New York Knicks on November 1, 1946.

Serge Ibaka

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Though he may no longer be starting, Serge Ibaka plays a critical role as one of Toronto's defensive anchors and last bastions of defence at the rim. As such, here he is standing guard along with a few nods to his own heritage.

To capture his Congolese heritage, Ibaka's armour is styled in a way to reflect more of a tribal warrior design. Standing alongside Ibaka and the Raptor are three lions, yet another symbol of Ibaka's roots in Africa.

MORE: Nick Nurse credits Ibaka, Gasol after Game 4 win

Jeremy Lin

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If it looks as if Lin is a brother of the Night's Watch standing guard amidst a frozen landscape in front of The Wall, it's because this is yet another intentional nod to the Game of Thrones universe with the consistent #WeTheNorth trope.

Aside from that connection, this illustration also brings to life his Asian heritage with the intricate armour that includes a dragon placed on the shoulder as well as an Asian-influence spear.

As much as Lin is representing his own heritage, the Raptor itself is honouring Lin with the mohawk, once a staple of Lin's on-the-floor flair.

MORE: Shot charts illustrate Raptors bench struggles

One final point? Notice the owls.

Flying above and prominently to the right of Lin, they're teasers for one of Chen's upcoming pieces that at the time had not yet been posted.

Drake

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He might not be playing, but Drake is every bit as visible during this Raptors playoff run.

Among every example, this might be the most pronounced use of colour as Drake's signature black and gold is heavily featured throughout.

He has at times mystical presence, signified here by the magnificent cloak and handling of fire in the shape of a Raptor claw. Aside from his colours, the cloak has Drake's "OVO" stitched in throughout while his owls are flying above prominently. If you look closely, you'll notice the spear is in the shape of the CN Tower which is front and centre on the album art for his album Views from the 6.

One final detail? Six owls. Six Raptors. One more easter egg for the Toronto faithful.

More of Richard Chen

Be on the lookout for more to come from @richardchen.draws on Instagram. A self-described lifelong fan who lists Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Damon Stoudamire as three of his favourite players of all-time, Chen is a must follow for anyone with an appreciation for basketball and art.

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All artwork is used with the expressed consent and courtesy of Richard Chen. More can be found on his Instagram account @richardchen.draws

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