Kawhi Leonard was the Finals MVP in 2014, but if you wanted to interview him one-on-one during media availabilities on off days, it wasn’t that hard. At the start of the session media members from around the world would crowd around his podium, but after 10 minutes of one word or short answers, and nothing insightful, they’d move on to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili or even Matt Bonner — someone who would give them good soundbites.
By the end, it was just Leonard and a guy or two, not that he would loosen up and give detailed answers about Xs and Os, himself, or anything else. The most interesting thing I got out of him was he thought the tacos in San Diego (where he went to college) were better than San Antonio.
Leonard doesn’t care about being an NBA star or his brand — he is the perfect Gregg Popovich player that way. The Brilliant Lee Jenkins lays it out perfectly over at Sports Illustrated in a story you should just read all of right now.
And learn Leonard loves Wingstop.
He is the only star still rocking cornrows, an outdated tribute to Carmelo Anthony, and he shrugs when friends claim he’d expand his endorsement portfolio if he shaved the braids. He is happy to sponsor Wingstop, which sends him coupons for free wings, so he can feed his Mango Habanero addiction. This winter, after his $94 million contract kicked in, he panicked when he lost his coupons. Wingstop generously replenished his supply.
“You’d think we were talking about a starving journeyman in the D-League,” says Randy Shelton, San Diego State’s strength and conditioning coach, who trains Leonard every off-season. But the player’s hunger is real. He is the rare professional athlete who distinguishes between greatness and stardom. “He wants the greatness badly,” Popovich says. “He doesn’t give a damn about the stardom.” You won’t find him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You probably won’t catch him in a photo shoot, on a red carpet or at an awards ceremony, even if he is the guest of honor. Check that—especially if he is the guest of honor. “He loves the game,” Popovich continues. “He ignores the rest of it.”
Read the entire story; it ‘s fantastic writing and reporting.
Spurs GM R.C. Buford admits Leonard gave this franchise a second chance, that there would be a chance to send Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili out on a high note, while helping set the table for the time when they are gone. Do you think LaMarcus Aldridge is a Spur without Leonard there?
The Spurs were hesitant to trade George Hill for Leonard on draft night — Popovich liked Hill a lot, and as Indiana has finally discovered if you use him in the right settings Hill is a quality NBA player. But the Spurs saw what Leonard could be before anyone else, and that’s why they’re the Spurs. They take calculated gambles, but in this case it paid off with a Top 5 NBA player.
And another shot at a ring. They need to get by Golden State, of course, but Leonard makes that more possible for them than any of the other 28 teams in the league.