What soured Kawhi Leonard on the Spurs?
With Leonard heading to the Raptors, answers still remain elusive. Not long ago, Leonard looked like a perfect fit in San Antonio – a seemingly low-maintenance superstar committed to winning. It was hard to imagine a better player to carry the torch from Tim Duncan.
Where did it all go wrong?
There’s probably no single answer. The injury issues are impossible to dismiss, but they clearly don’t stand alone.
The first cracks in the low-maintenance veneer came in 2016, when Leonard made his first All-Star game — in Toronto of all places.
Leonard and his traveling companions noticed other All-Stars — notably Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook — were using private luxury cars to get around, instead of the standard transportation provided by the NBA. They wanted the star treatment, too.
Leonard’s trip to China in August of 2017 seemed to spark another change in him. Everywhere he went on the NBA ambassador junket, Leonard was mobbed by fans wearing his jersey and other Spurs gear.
“I was surprised at how many Spurs fans there were, for me not ever going out there,” Leonard said upon his return stateside. “It’s just shocking to see how big they support the NBA.”
The experience also stuck with Leonard’s personal management team, including his uncle, Dennis Robertson. His advisers began to see Leonard’s potential as a top-shelf star and global brand.
So the Spurs didn’t arrange for Leonard to have a private luxury car during All-Star weekend? That doesn’t mean they didn’t take care of their stars. That’s not the only way for them to give preferential treatment. In particular, they’re known for letting family on some team flights, and you can bet a player of Leonard’s caliber would get more leeway.
That said, Leonard is an elite producer even among stars. I wouldn’t blame him for seeking every amenity he can get.
Of course, the question with the notoriously quiet Leonard: Did he ask for more? Did San Antonio even realize Leonard felt unfulfilled in this way? Maybe the Spurs would have accommodated him if he were more vocal.
Leonard’s elite basketball play positions him as a potential global brand, but that alone isn’t enough. He must build a more marketable image. For now, though, Leonard’s strategy appears to be: