Who the heck even is Kawhi Leonard?
Some dude, who shows up in the NBA finals every couple of years and just steals the show?
What made him leave San Antonio, and what exactly is he about to do now?
It’s really hard to say for sure when it comes to Kawhi, he is a guy who seems to love the big stage for different reasons than most of the other superstars that have graced this league. We know virtually nothing about the man himself, and the media pays him very little mind during the regular season and he doesn’t promote himself much.
Many players have brought their personalities to the game, from Magic Johnson, Jordan, Lebron, Kobe, Shaq, Charles Barkley, even Kevin Durant on social media and so many others that have iconic games and iconic personalities that draw people to the television.
But who the heck is Kawhi Leonard?
We simply don’t know this guy really at all. All we know is he wants to win and he’s good at winning. I don’t believe he cares at all about being the best ever like Jordan did, like Kobe did, like Lebron does. I think Kawhi does this for himself. He seems to have a quiet but active self scoreboard going on with himself. The man plays like a robot, sparing very little energy on emotion or exuberance. Yet he is one of the most efficient and effective players in NBA history.
We first got formally introduced to Kawhi Leonard in the NBA playoffs as the San Antonio’s defensive answer for Lebron James. In the NBA finals battles that featured the Heat Vs the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard was usually the one who could give Lebron by far the most trouble.
Kawhi did such a good job defending Lebron James the Spurs beat the Miami Heat in 2014. Kawhi Leonard was able to help Tim Duncan and the Spurs win one more NBA title while averaging 17.8PTS 6.4REB 2.0ASSISTS 1.2STLS. Kawhi did this while shooting an absolutely ridiculous 61% from the field and 57.9% from 3PT winning the finals MVP. One of the most efficient two way performances in playoff history.
The Spurs moved on as Tim Duncan retired and didn’t make the NBA finals for a few years while the Golden State Warriors built a dynasty and began going every year. In 2017, after going to back to back NBA Finals against the Cavs, the Warriors sign coveted free agent Kevin Durant, while the rest of the league all but gave up.
Despite the KD signing, The Spurs in 2017 were retooled and ready to compete for an NBA championship. They met the Warriors in the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard went absolutely crazy on both ends of the floor, getting his team up by over 20 points at halftime.
Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Zaza Pachulia of the Warriors steps under Kawhi after Kawhi is mid jumpshot, as Kawhi severely injured his quad.
This major blow to Kawhi’s health ended the Spurs season, as the Warriors went on to win the NBA championship.
What happens next in this story is by far the most confusing.
Many different conflicting reports come out from San Antonio concerning Kawhi Leonard’s health.
San Antonio reported that Leonard would be ready for the 2018 NBA season shortly after the playoffs ended.
Leonard’s Representatives told the media that he would not be ready for the start of the season and he was not 100% healthy.
Kawhi and the Spurs went back and forth for months and into the season.
When it was clear to Kawhi Leonard that the Spurs were not wanting to give him the requisite time he needed to recover from his injuries, Kawhi vanished from the team.
Kawhi was even said to be playing Fortnite while the Spurs were trying to contact him.
The Spurs would eventually trade Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have been incredibly patient with Kawhi Leonard and his health letting him rest over 20 games. Nick Nurse and the Raptors have used his elite offensive and defensive game to propel them from a perennial playoff team to a finals contender.
Kawhi who has evolved his offensive game to match his 2 defensive player of the year awards, averaged 26.6 PTS 7.3 REB with 3.3 assists and 2 steals for the Raptors. Leonard has brought this team, in his first year with them to the NBA finals and is one game away from an NBA title.
But just exactly how did this guy become the best player in the league? How did he climb this mountaintop so quietly yet he already won a finals MVP? No clear answer to that.
It’s also shocking to believe how completely foolish The Spurs were for treating Kawhi poorly by assuming he was healthy when he said he was not.
Kawhi’s uncle Dennis Robertson addressed that situation;
“I think it just became a lack of trust,” Robertson told Yahoo Sports. “They didn’t believe Kawhi couldn’t play and that caused a lack of trust in us and then us not believing in them. Any time a player says he’s not capable of playing, you should believe him. Why would Kawhi just stop playing all of a sudden? He’s a competitor. Sometimes you get these team doctors telling you what you can and cannot do, and Kawhi was just in too much pain to get out there. This was a serious issue. They didn’t believe him, and after that, the relationship couldn’t recover and we decided we had to move on.”
Family seems to be important to Leonard.
Leonard’s father died before he was drafted in the NBA, he is a brother of 4 sisters, he is a father of 2 children, his cousin was NFL wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Kawhi rarely does interviews and doesn’t answer personal questions.
We know virtually nothing about Kawhi Leonard except that his is easily the most dominant two way player of this era. Already winning a title against Prime Lebron and the Miami Heat, plus if he can help end the Golden State Warriors dynasty, his legacy could be potentially unmatched among active stars. Stealing the show away from everyone else in the league yet again would put Kawhi in a very select conversation of all time elite basketball players as well.
The most fascinating thing to me about Kawhi Leonard is how incredibly relevant he has made himself in this era of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Lebron James, and how little we know about him. Kawhi, who is 27, is younger than all of those guys and he has more time to grow, get better, and win more even championships for whoever he wants!