If you ever get a chance to watch SportsCenter or the NBA on TNT, you are constantly ambushed with “LeBron James this,” “LeBron James that,” “Russ vs. KD,” “Carmelo vs Phil Jackson,” blah, blah, blah. It’s the same stories, night in and night out. For me, though, I watch basketball, particularly the NBA, focusing specifically on the athletes and their incredible skills and talent. In my opinion, one of the most underappreciated and least respected players in the league is Kawhi Leonard, the starting Small Forward for the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard is a growing force in the NBA, but still seems to not receive the attention he truly deserves.
Kawhi is the epitome of the San Antonio Spurs Organization: selfless yet a winner. Coached by Gregg Poppovich, the Spurs are consistently one of the best teams in the NBA. Playing alongside veterans like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi has slowly been developing his skills and thriving in the system. In 2011, he averaged a mere 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Flash-forward to 2016-2017, where he’s leading the San Antonio Spurs, currently second in the NBA, while averaging 25.6 points and 5.9 rebounds. He led the Spurs to a 2014 Finals victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He won the 2014 and 2015 Defensive Player Award, after locking down other superstars night in and night out.
With all the success he’s already achieved at such an early stage in his career, why is it that we do not focus on him as much? (Is it because the cornrows are going out of style?) No, it’s because he isn’t flashy or he isn’t arrogant. He simply gets the job done. “I don’t like to bring attention to myself. I don’t like to make a scene,” Leonard says. He does not have Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. He never argues a foul or demands for the ball. His teammate Tony Parker said, “Kawhi has never asked or expected anything. He doesn’t say much with his mouth. He does all of his talking with how he’s worked for the whole team.” Everything he does is focused on being great, on becoming the best he can be. Coach Gregg Poppovich said about Leonard, “He wants the greatness badly. He doesn’t give a [rip] about the stardom.” He spends hours in the gym, perfecting his craft and becoming better.
The key question, though, is how far will Kawhi Leonard go in his career? The answer is however far the San Antonio Spurs go. He is the rudder to the USS Spurs, guiding their success. Should the media give him more praise and attention? Maybe so, but he doesn’t want it. Should Israel Gutierrez interview him more following games? Again, maybe so, but only because his contract requires it. Where will you find him in the summer? No, not on a Banana Boat with LeBron James, but back in the gym in San Diego working to be the best.
Statistics from ESPN.com