He's acquired a ring, a deadly jumper and also...jokes? Get to know the NBA superstar that have the right to kill your team's championship dreams without saying a word
Jonathan Abrams
Kawhi Leonard made a joke as soon as.

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The San Antonio Spurs’ do-everything virtuoso forward reluctantly hosted court before a media throng at February’s All-Star Weekend. A reporter asked what he looked forward to the majority of while in New Orleans. “Mardi Gras, of course,” he responded through a hearty guffaw. He easily corrected himself, complying with through dry platitudes.

Those close to Leonard promise he is easygoing and fun to be around, a pledge few deserve to earlier up via concrete anecdotes. “I’m a visual memory man, so I can’t think of anypoint certain, but he’ll come up through some excellent laughs, excellent one-liners,” swears Matt Bonner, a previous Spurs teammate. “He is underhandedly really funny. He has one of the ideal smiles you"ve ever before seen. It’s infectious.”

Kawhi Leonard poses for a photo throughout the 2017 All-Star Weekend in New Orleans on February 19.(Getty Images)

But if those around Leonard are brief on stories of revelry (in reality, he jetted out of New Orleans to make a 6:15 a.m. workout the following day in San Diego), they can’t stop talking about the dedication and attitude that have enabled him to steadily grow and also blossom with each of his 6 NBA seasons—from trade fodder to rotation player to starter, All-Star and also MVP candiday.

Leonard, of course, is the personification of action over words. His quick attempt at humor is the only quote you will see from him in this story. Instead, B/R Mag has enabled those who recognize him best—his teammates, coaches and also others—to tell of Leonard’s stable and impressive progression.

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The Beginning

Leonard’s mom, Kim Robertson, had actually to job-related in the time of his freshman basketball tryouts at California’s Canyon Springs High School. So he missed the session, and also the school’s coach refsupplied to let him on the team.

Leonard discovered an AAU coach and mentor in Marvin Lea and also moved to Riverside’s Martin Luther King High School. He committed himself to basketround and earned a scholarship to San Diego State—bypassing the blue-chip programs that came after him later in the procedure.

Leonard was a star forward at King High School in Riverside, California.(Picture by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times by means of Getty Images)

Tim Sweeney Jr. (former coach, Riverside King): “He always stayed after. I’m wanting to go residence. I’ve gained four children, and also I need to count on my assistant coaches to remain for Kawhi.

“I referred to as my father, who was a Hevery one of Fame high college coach and also college coach. I sassist, ‘You gotta gain dvery own to the gym ideal now. I think we’ve acquired ourselves not just an NBA player, he’s an NBA All-Star.’ He laughed at me. Well, nobody’s laughing currently.

“Tright here was somepoint in his game. He doesn’t need to score to overcome a basketround game. He have the right to carry out it through rebounding, do it with assists, he have the right to execute it through stealing the round, defense.”

Justin Hutchild (assistant coach, San Diego State): “He was a guy you had to go discover bereason he wasn’t always going to pick up his phone. He was not easy to get in touch with, not easy to review, yet he was genuine with me. So if you proceed to work and call and go watch him and also text, he appreciated that.”

Leonard led San Diego State to a Mountain West Conference championship in 2011. SDSU and BYU were co-champions of the consistent seaboy.(Getty Images)

Steve Fisher (head coach, San Diego State): “He talked about after his freshman year. We did our due diligence, and he probably was not going to be a first-round draft pick. And I told him that. I sassist, ‘You must not go.’

“After his sophoeven more year, he was for certain a first-round draft pick and we told him that and he chose to go with our blessing, and also I went to the draft through him. I was there, and he had actually workouts wright here he moved up the food chain, wright here the whispers were he could be a top-10 pick, based on his workouts. And then as soon as he slipped, he was a really sullen, somber man till his name was referred to as.”

The Making of Kawhi

What various other franchise might have actually a right line through once-in-a-generation talents choose the Spurs via David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard?

“It doesn’t happen so seamlessly via most groups about the league,” states Sean Elliott, a forward who played with Robinson and also Dundeserve to and also is currently a Spurs television analyst. “You check out many resistance by veterans to pass the torch, because they still desire to remain pertinent and still desire to be the male. But I think we were so fortunate in San Antonio, because David was so willing to pass the torch to Timmy, and also Timmy learned from that.

One of the organization’s biggest difficulties occurred long prior to Leonard shown up into an MVP candidate. The Spurs had actually to decide whether to trade George Hill, an established guard that the franchise had actually groomed, for the opportunity to get Leonard in 2011. The Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard 1fifth in its entirety and also traded him to the Spurs on draft night for Hill.

Gregg Popovich (head coach, Spurs): “The toughest in whatever, 20, whatever before years I’ve been coaching below as a head coach. It’s not also cshed. We were scared to death sitting in the room. I think it was the 1fifth pick, if I remember, and as soon as we obtained to 11, 12, 13. Danny Ferry, our CEO, and I were looking at each various other saying, ‘Are we really going to carry out this?’

was among my favorite players. He was necessary to us, yet we essential to get bigger. … So in the end, we sassist we’re going to roll the bones and also we’re going to carry out it, but I can’t tell that at that allude we knew that Kawhi was going to be what he is this particular day. That would be an exaggeration.”

Mike Budenholzer (former Spurs assistant coach): “I would certainly say it’s a small little bit of a funny story. … I simply think he wasn’t actual impressive throughout his lockout workouts. The guys would get arranged and also they would certainly work-related out together on their own and also then when the lockout ends, you type of acquire a small little of feedback like, ‘How is this man doing? How’s that guy doing?’

Chip Engelland also (assistant coach, Spurs): “Whether a billion hrs, a million hours or a thousand also hrs, everyone has actually operated on their shot, and also eexceptionally shot’s individual, and not everybody’s willing to change. I didn"t have time to spfinish and acquire to know him and also obtain personal via his shot.

“I provided Ricdifficult as a version and also also supplied Kobe Bryant, because Kobe Bryant has actually really excellent shooting develop. I didn’t know if Kawhi was a Laker fan or not or a Kobe fan, yet you had actually to respect his occupational and also his shooting. So, we offered pictures and also video of them. I showed him his images of where his was, equivalent to where Rictough was. Kawhi’s smart, and also he goes, ‘Let"s go to work-related, let"s carry out it.’”

Popovich: “He’d continue to be after practice, and he’d occupational on ball-handling, step-back jumper, a floater. Chip Engelland also would begin to job-related via him on his three-point swarm because that’s not what he did when he came. Chad actually Forcier, who’s currently in Orlanperform, was excellent at working his individual moves.

“So those two guys really are the males that emerged him from a coaching standallude, and fortunately as a player he’s acquired a substantial capacity for occupational and a large desire to be really good, and so you put that together and also that’s what we have currently.

Manu Ginobili (Spurs teammate, 2011-present): “Towards the finish of the <2013> finals we shed, you can see him beginning to change his game. We were not calling plays for him at all.

“Even the second year, the finals we won, we were not calling most plays for him. But he began to figure it out, and also then we did start to go at him, first just at the article, currently bigger functions, currently whatever.

“His game has flouriburned, and also he’s starting to check out teammates likewise. So, he demands to work-related on a few points, of course, however what he’s doing is simply tremendous. ... I was a rookie at 25.”

Quiet to (Sort of) Vocal

Leonard is notoriously quiet and also to himself. “He knows whatever that’s going on,” Lea, his AAU coach, states. “Once you gain him in that front seat of your vehicle and you acquire him alone, he"ll ask you the concerns he requirements to ask you. He"s quiet, just watching. Just looking at every little thing, yet his teammates and people like to be approximately him.”

Teammates and coaches vow that Leonard has actually come out of his shell rather to be vocal enough on the court to worry commands and be noticed. Surprisingly, Leonard’s personality is the majority of regularly on display screen in the Spurs’ annual H-E-B grocery store commercials, where he has end up being the breakout star.Popovich: “I think the a lot of crucial thing is I let him be that he is. I think it’s wasted initiative to try to change somebody. If you shelp attempt and make Manu Ginobili non-competitive, well, you’re not going to carry out it. If somebody’s quiet, that’s what they’re going to be. You’re not going to make Aincredibly Johnchild quiet.

“So we let civilization be who they are and also then at some allude intellectually attempt to obtain across to them that at leastern they have to communicate via their teammates throughout competition and that kind of point, because it helps us come to be a better team, and also he’s done that steadily better and much better, yearly, every year, each year.”

Cory Basso (group vice president marketing and also heralding at H-E-B): “We try to pick roles for each personality. So Tony and Manu in the commercials are generally the ones goofing approximately, Tim’s a small bit more of the significant perchild, always type of wondering, What are you men doing, kind of thing.

“He’s a little little of the even more major perboy, and then Kawhi’s a little bit of the young kid of the team, kind of doesn’t follow the norm of everyone else, sort of goes off on his very own. And what’s been fun is he ad-libs a lot throughout our shoots. So some of his stuff is directed, however some of it’s just Kawhi being Kawhi.”

David Lee (Spurs teammate, 2016-present): “He talks yet is certainly on the quiet side, comparable to Klay Thompkid wright here he’s not going to voluntarily stop unless spoken to. …With so many men now in the league that are all around their brand also and also all about flair and being so arrogant, which everybody has actually the ideal to do their own point, I think it really is amazing.”

Ginobili: “Before he was even more introverted and waiting for points to take place. And then he started to realize the type of talents he has actually and also how important he’s for the team. And he knows he’s going to have actually the round. So he’s been trusting even more teammates.

“He’s waiting a pair plays and also then knowing that we’re going to play for him. And that’s something that that type of confidence gives you. First, confidence in your talent and also then confidence that the team is going to look for you, bereason they require you. And once you reach that suggest, it transforms a lot, because your mindset is totally different.

“So he’s at that point wright here he knows he owns the team, that we require him to do what he’s doing to win and also to have actually a possibility. And that puts you in a good mental spot.”

Randy Shelton (longtime trainer): “We talk about every little thing. We talk around shoes, apparel, food, the training, to favor cars, the stock sector. He’s a huge boy. And the crazy point is he’s really intelligent about many stuff.

“He’s coming out via his own clothing line. He’s the one that designed the fabric. He doesn’t have human being fabricating stuff for him. Everypoint that he has actually going for himself, he’s the one that has actually put while and also effort.”

The Results

Leonard permanently put his stamp on this MVP race in a game against fellow most likely finalist James Harden and also the Houston Rockets. Leonard performed brilliantly, pouring in 17 of his 39 points in the last quarter. He sealed the game via a dazzling 6.5-second sequence towards the end by nailing a dagger three-pointer to put San Antonio ahead and blocking Harden’s layup attempt on the following possession.

Popovich shelp the block is what sepaprices Leonard from nearly eincredibly other NBA player.

“The 3, you recognize Harden makes threes, Kawhi makes threes...Steph makes threes, everyone does that,” Popovich said. “But I don’t recognize who goes to the other finish and does what . Kawhi wanted it badly, and also he went and also took it.”

Chad Forcier (former assistant coach, Spurs): “To the external people, it shows up that he has actually suddenly arised as an All-Star or an MVP candiday. It seems choose he has actually unexpectedly confirmed up and every one of a sudden, ‘Wow. This guy’s really excellent.’

“I don’t view it that means, and what the outer civilization can’t see is truly choose exactly how much time and also actually how slow-moving the process remained in regards to the work-related and also the sweat and also the commitment and also the desire and also the day-in-and-day-out process or multiple periods before we really got to watch him prosper in regards to the opportunity that Pop began to begin to give him.”

Engelland: “He hasn’t been tricked by any kind of of the NBA glamour or bappropriate lights, huge city. A lot of smart, excellent players have been. You gain shed and also forgain the process, foracquire why you started to play. With him, it’s choose, ‘What’d you perform last night?’ ‘Watched a little TV. I was through friends. My mom cooked dinner.’ Those are very common nights for him.”

“He watches everyone—Hakeem , Jordan. At some point, once he’s done, I’m not saying he’s chasing Jordan, however he desires to be discussed up tbelow with LeBron, Kobe, MJ, Hakeem, Barkley. He desires to not be a optimal 50 all-timer. He desires to be a optimal 10, so that’s his goal.

“He"s absolutely not moved by money, I"ll tell you that. He lives very humble. He wants to be an excellent all-time basketball player.”

Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and also sports reporter at the New York Times and also the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling writer of Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Reidentified the NBA and also Sparked a Basketsphere Revolution. Follow him on Twitter: 

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