At a Raptors pre-season game this fall, 20-year-old Kevon Watt got the chance to sit courtside next to Drake.
It was a special night for him, not only because he was invited to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by one of the world’s biggest rappers. Watt was also able to watch his former teammate Dalano Banton front-and-centre, playing for the NBA team they dreamed about as kids. The two embraced, and it was at that moment Watt took it all in.
“Coming from where we come from, we don’t get that,” Watt said. “Toronto Community Housing, we don’t get these opportunities. It’s crazy.”
Unlike Banton, Watt wasn’t able fulfil his own dreams of becoming an NBA player. Still, there’s no denying that he’s a hooper in a league of his own. Better known by his online moniker, K Showtime, Watt is a street basketball YouTube sensation who has recently surpassed more than 200,000 subscribers on his channel, boasting another 300,000 followers on TikTok.
Born and raised in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood, Watt knows how his area is portrayed by many from the outside looking in. It’s been a designated priority neighbourhood for years, a place that’s severely underfunded by the city and prone to gun violence.
But to Watt and many other residents, Jane and Finch is a tight-knit community that takes pride in its resilience; on working together to seek success despite systems working against them. It’s about “making it out of the trenches.”
Watt’s basketball journey began when his mother used to take him to local courts as a child. He picked up the game quickly, and became known in the neighbourhood for dominating older players. It’s where he first gained the nickname “K Showtime” for always putting on a show when he touched the ball.
“Even if you didn’t know him, you heard his name,” said Frank Darfi, a close friend of Watt, who also grew up in his neighbourhood. “His name had a buzz around Jane and Finch, everybody knew who Kevon Watt was.”
From those courts, the young basketball prodigy then went on to play in Kentucky against highly scouted NBA talent like Jalen Green and Kyree Walker. He too was also on his way to fulfilling his dream of landing an NCAA scholarship, but everything fell apart in high school. Due to disagreements with his coach, he was kicked off the team. That left him stranded, with no basketball tape to show scouts and no opportunities to advance.
But just as resilient as the neighbourhood that raised him, he couldn’t stop seeking success. He wanted to make a name for himself. “Being from Jane and Finch, you don’t have any time to sulk or to sit down and give up,” said Darfi. “You can’t give up, you’re already in the concrete. You gotta keep blossoming.”
So, he moved onto his next project: teaching himself how to edit, cut videos and create his own YouTube channel — something he’d always wanted to explore and watched avidly. He decided to save money to purchase a camera and a laptop and when he finally could, he flew to Miami, hoping to network with famous YouTubers for his kickstart.
By a stroke of luck, Watt met a famous YouTuber named Miamithekid. The two collaborated on a video and Watt saw his subscribers jump from 403 to over 7,000 in a span of a couple of days. It was that moment in July 2019 Watt knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He took his phone and wrote himself a note, promising himself he wouldn’t return back to school until he pursued YouTube full time. He spent the next two years in a serious grind to get organized, draw storyboards and turn his visions into a reality.
From the 7,000 in 2019, Watt found himself with tens of thousands of followers by early 2021, upping his goal to 100,000 by the end of the year. He also learned how to better define and carve a space for himself by leaning into something he knew best: street ball.
“I was watching Americans, and they were doing it. I was like what the hell, no one is doing it in Toronto? I’m going to be the first person to start it,” Watt said.
Even though he hadn’t touched a basketball in almost two years, he decided to invite people to come out to play against him in Irvin. W. Chapley Park in North York. When he stepped onto the court, it was like he never left, winning each game as challenger after challenger approached.
While the first meetup brought in only around 30 people, word quickly spread online. By mid-summer, crowds of hundreds — even thousands — surrounded the park courts. Darfi remembers a summer of holding back packed crowds on the sidelines, one GTA court after another.
The videos began to go viral too. YouTubers across the world began reacting to Watt’s videos in awe. He grew from 30,000 to 100,000 subscribers in less than two months and brought street ball to life in Toronto with his hard nose, trash-talking style of play that brought a different energy to the courts.
“You forget about the whole world when you go to that court. You might not even know the person right next to you, but when you see the ball go straight into the net after he’s getting guarded by two people, you might just grab that person and jump with them in the air because the energy is so insane,” said Darfi.
One of the biggest games for Watt was at Smithfield Park in Etobicoke, with more than a thousand in attendance, gathered around with their phones in their hands. Some stood on stools, others sat on fences to get a peek.
“That was probably the biggest game ever. People even in America were saying it was the park takeover of the year,” said Watt.
Soon, Watt’s videos caught Drake’s attention, and the rapper invited him to the listening party for his new album “Certified Lover Boy.” An avid player himself, Drake also invited Watt over to play a two-on-two at his Bridle Path mansion home court. Being recognized by one of the world’s biggest stars, who also started in the city, was a milestone for Watt, but also a time of reflection.
“You don’t get handouts in the city, you really have to work for everything. It’s a selfish city. People don’t support each other,” Watt said.
It’s why Watt does everything to pay homage to the ones that came before him. At the Raptors game with Drake, Watt donned a pair of glasses with the word “Hooligans” over it. He wanted the world to see Jane and Finch for all its glory while honouring a close friend of his from the hood — Dimarjio Antonio Jenkins, also known as Toronto rapper Houdini — who was shot and killed in May 2020.
Jenkins was a big inspiration to Watt. Growing up in the same area of Driftwood and watching his friend’s rise to stardom showed Watt that anything was possible. “He was definitely going to blow up, there was no if and or buts,” said Watt. “It made me want to do the same.”
Now having found his platform, Watt is hoping to inspire more kids in Toronto to dream big, just like Jenkins had done for him. This past summer, he arranged a park meet-up for kids in Toronto, handing out hundreds of backpacks, clothing, a barber to give free haircuts and an ice cream truck handing free sweets.
“Growing up in the hood, it’s sometimes difficult for mothers, fathers and families to get these types of things,” said Darfi.
Far surpassing his original 100,000 subscriber goal by 2021, Watt now has his sights set on being one of Canada’s top online personalities. His successes have also led him to reach a huge milestone for 2022, purchasing his first home in Toronto. And while his high school coach and others may have doubted his dreams early on, he never left basketball — he just found another way to express it.
“When you bring up basketball in Toronto, they’re going to say my name, they have no choice,” said Watt. “I come from a household where there’s not a lot of money, Now, I have an opportunity to be able to help my family.”