He's gained a ring, a deadly jumper and...jokes? gain to know the NBA superstar who have the right to kill her team's championship desires without speak a word
Jonathan Abrams
Kawhi Leonard do a hoax once.

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The mountain Antonio Spurs’ do-everything virtuoso front reluctantly held court before a media throng in ~ February’s All-Star Weekend. A reporter asked what the looked front to many while in new Orleans. “Mardi Gras, of course,” the responded through a hearty guffaw. He conveniently corrected himself, complying with with dried platitudes.

Those close come Leonard promise he is easygoing and fun to it is in around, a pledge few can earlier up with concrete anecdotes. “I’m a visual memory guy, so ns can’t think of anything specific, but he’ll come up through some an excellent laughs, good one-liners,” swears Matt Bonner, a previous Spurs teammate. “He is underhandedly really funny. He has one the the ideal smiles you"ve ever seen. The contagious.”

Kawhi Leonard poses because that a photo during the 2017 All-Star Weekend in new Orleans on February 19.(Getty Images)

But if those roughly Leonard are brief on stories of revelry (in fact, he jetted the end of new Orleans to do a 6:15 a.m. Workout the next day in san Diego), they can’t protect against talking around the dedication and also mindset that have permitted him to steadily grow and also blossom v each of his six NBA seasons—from profession fodder to rotation player to starter, All-Star and also MVP candidate.

Leonard, that course, is the personification of activity over words. His quick attempt at feeling is the just quote friend will watch from that in this story. Instead, B/R Mag has allowed those who recognize him best—his teammates, coaches and others—to tell of Leonard’s steady and also impressive progression.

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The Beginning

Leonard’s mom, Kim Robertson, had actually to work throughout his student in the first year basketball tryouts in ~ California’s Canyon Springs High School. So he to let go the session, and the school’s coach refuse to let him on the team.

Leonard found an AAU coach and also mentor in Marvin Lea and transferred come Riverside’s martin Luther King High School. The committed himself to basketball and also earned a scholarship to mountain Diego State—bypassing the blue-chip program that come after him later on in the process.

Leonard was a star front at King High college in Riverside, California.(Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles time via Getty Images)

Tim Sweeney Jr. (former coach, Riverside King): “He always stayed after. Ns wanting to walk home. I have got four kids, and I have to count on mine assistant coaches to continue to be for Kawhi.

“I called my father, who was a hall of fame high school coach and also college coach. I said, ‘You gotta get down come the gym ideal now. I think we’ve obtained ourselves not just an NBA player, he’s an NBA All-Star.’ He laughed at me. Well, nobody’s laughing now.

“There to be something in his game. That doesn’t need to score to conquer a basketball game. He deserve to do it with rebounding, do it v assists, he can do it through stealing the ball, defense.”

Justin Hutson (assistant coach, mountain Diego State): “He was a male you had actually to go uncover since he wasn’t always going to pick up his phone. He was not easy to acquire in touch with, not basic to read, yet he was actual with me. For this reason if you continue to work and call and go watch him and also text, he evaluate that.”

Leonard led san Diego State come a mountain West Conference championship in 2011. SDSU and BYU to be co-champions of the regular season.(Getty Images)

Steve Fisher (head coach, mountain Diego State): “He talked around ~ his freshman year. We did our due diligence, and he probably was not going to it is in a first-round breeze pick. And I told the that. Ns said, ‘You need to not go.’

“After his sophomore year, he to be for certain a first-round breeze pick and also we told him that and he made decision to go through our blessing, and I saw the draft with him. I was there, and also he had actually workouts whereby he relocated up the food chain, where the whispers were he could be a top-10 pick, based on his workouts. And also then as soon as he slipped, he to be a very sullen, somber man until his name was called.”

The make of Kawhi

What various other franchise can have a right line through once-in-a-generation talents favor the Spurs with David Robinson, Tim Duncan and also Kawhi Leonard?

“It doesn’t take place so seamlessly with a many teams roughly the league,” claims Sean Elliott, a forward who played with Robinson and also Duncan and is currently a Spurs tv analyst. “You view a most resistance by veterans to happen the torch, due to the fact that they still want to continue to be relevant and still desire to be the guy. Yet I think we were therefore fortunate in san Antonio, due to the fact that David was so willing to pass the torch to Timmy, and Timmy learned indigenous that.

One of the organization’s greatest challenges developed long before Leonard materialized right into an MVP candidate. The Spurs had actually to decide whether to trade George Hill, an established guard who the franchise had actually groomed, because that the opportunity to gain Leonard in 2011. The Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard 15th overall and also traded him to the spurs on draft night for Hill.

Gregg Popovich (head coach, Spurs): “The toughest in whatever, 20, everything years I’ve been coaching here as a head coach. The not even close. Us were scared to death sitting in the room. Ns think it to be the 15th pick, if i remember, and also when we gained to 11, 12, 13. Danny Ferry, our CEO, and also I to be looking at each various other saying, ‘Are us really walking to execute this?’

was among my favorite players. The was essential to us, however we necessary to obtain bigger. … so in the end, we claimed we’re going to roll the bones and also we’re walking to carry out it, yet I can not tell the at that point we knew the Kawhi was going to be what that is today. That would certainly be an exaggeration.”

Mike Budenholzer (former spur assistant coach): “I would say it’s a small bit that a funny story. … I just think the wasn’t real impressive during his lockout workouts. The men would acquire organized and also they would work out together on their own and then as soon as the lockout ends, you type of get a tiny bit the feedback like, ‘How is this man doing? How’s that male doing?’

Chip Engelland (assistant coach, Spurs): “Whether a billion hours, a million hrs or a thousand hours, everyone has worked on their shot, and also every shot’s personal, and also not everybody’s ready to change. Ns didn"t have actually time to spend and get to recognize him and get personal with his shot.

“I offered Richard together a version and additionally used Kobe Bryant, since Kobe Bryant has really good shooting form. I didn’t understand if Kawhi to be a Laker pan or not or a Kobe fan, but you had actually to respect his work and also his shooting. So, we used pictures and video of them. I confirmed him his pictures of whereby his was, comparable to where Richard was. Kawhi’s smart, and he goes, ‘Let"s go to work, let"s execute it.’”

Popovich: “He’d continue to be after practice, and also he’d work-related on ball-handling, step-back jumper, a floater. Chip Engelland would begin to job-related with him on his three-point shot since that’s not what that did once he came. Chad Forcier, who’s currently in Orlando, was great at working his separation, personal, instance moves.

“So those two guys really room the males that occurred him native a coaching standpoint, and also fortunately together a player he’s gained a large capacity for work and also a huge desire come be really good, and also so you placed that together and that’s what we have now.

Manu Ginobili (Spurs teammate, 2011-present): “Towards the finish of the <2013> finals us lost, you could see him starting to adjust his game. Us were not calling plays because that him at all.

“Even the second year, the finals us won, we were not calling a lot of plays for him. However he started to figure it out, and also then we did start to go at him, very first only at the post, now bigger roles, currently everything.

“His game has flourished, and he’s beginning to see teammates also. So, he demands to job-related on a couple of things, of course, yet what he’s doing is just incredible. ... I was a rookie in ~ 25.”

Quiet come (Sort of) Vocal

Leonard is notoriously quiet and to himself. “He knows every little thing that’s walk on,” Lea, his AAU coach, says. “Once you obtain him in that front seat of your car and also you acquire him alone, he"ll ask friend the concerns he requirements to asking you. He"s quiet, just watching. Just looking at everything, however his teammates and people choose to be around him.”

Teammates and coaches vow that Leonard has actually come the end of his shell somewhat to it is in vocal enough on the court to worry commands and be noticed. Surprisingly, Leonard’s personality is most often on display in the Spurs’ yearly H-E-B grocery store commercials, whereby he has come to be the breakout star.Popovich: “I think the most crucial thing is i let him be who he is. I think that wasted effort to try to readjust somebody. If girlfriend said shot and make Manu Ginobili non-competitive, well, you’re no going to do it. If somebody’s quiet, it is what lock going come be. You’re not going to do Avery Johnson quiet.

“So us let world be that they are and also then at some suggest intellectually shot to get across to them the at least they have to interact with their teammates throughout competition and that type of thing, due to the fact that it helps us come to be a far better team, and he’s done that steadily much better and better, every year, every year, every year.”

Cory Basso (group vice chairman marketing and also advertising in ~ H-E-B): “We shot to pick roles for each personality. So Tony and Manu in the commercials are usually the people goofing around, Tim’s a little bit more of the serious person, always kind the wondering, What are you guys doing, sort of thing.

“He’s a small bit that the more serious person, and then Kawhi’s a tiny bit that the young child of the team, kind of doesn’t monitor the share of anyone else, kind of goes off on his own. And what’s been fun is the ad-libs a lot throughout our shoots. So some of his stuff is directed, but some the it’s just Kawhi being Kawhi.”

David Lee (Spurs teammate, 2016-present): “He talks however is certainly on the quiet side, comparable to Klay Thompson wherein he’s no going come voluntarily speak unless talked to. …With so many guys currently in the league that room all about their brand and all around flair and being so arrogant, i m sorry everybody has the right to perform their own thing, ns think it really is amazing.”

Ginobili: “Before the was much more introverted and also waiting for things to happen. And also then he began to realize the form of talent he has and also how crucial he’s because that the team. And he knows he is going to have actually the ball. So he’s been trusting an ext teammates.

“He’s waiting a pair plays and also then knowing that we’re going come play for him. And that’s something that that type of confidence gives you. First, trust in your talent and also then confidence that the team is going come look for you, since they require you. And when you reach that point, it alters a lot, since your perspective is fully different.

“So he’s at that point where he to know he owns the team, the we need him to execute what he’s doing to win and to have a chance. And that puts girlfriend in a an excellent mental spot.”

Randy Shelton (longtime trainer): “We talk around everything. Us talk around shoes, clothes, food, the training, to like cars, the share market. He is a big kid. And also the crazy thing is he’s really intelligent about a most stuff.

“He’s comes out through his own clothing line. He is the one the designed the cloth. He doesn’t have world fabricating stuff for him. Every little thing that he has actually going because that himself, he is the one that has put in the time and effort.”

The Results

Leonard permanently placed his rubber stamp on this MVP gyeongju in a game against fellow likely finalist James Harden and also the Houston Rockets. Leonard carry out brilliantly, pouring in 17 that his 39 points in the final quarter. He sealed the video game with 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 effort on the taking place possession.

Popovich stated the block is what separates Leonard from practically every various other NBA player.

“The three, you recognize Harden provides threes, Kawhi makes threes...Steph renders threes, anyone does that,” Popovich said. “But i don’t understand who goes come the other end and does what . Kawhi wanted it badly, and also he went and took it.”

Chad Forcier (former assistant coach, Spurs): “To the outer world, it appears that he has suddenly emerged as an All-Star or an MVP candidate. The seems like he has actually suddenly confirmed up and all of a sudden, ‘Wow. This guy’s really good.’

“I don’t see it that way, and also what the outer civilization can’t check out is important like how much time and actually just how slow the procedure was in terms of the work and also the sweat and the commitment and the desire and the day-in-and-day-out procedure or multiple seasons before we really obtained to view him grow in regards to the opportunity that Pop began to start to offer him.”

Engelland: “He hasn’t been tricked by any type of of the NBA glamour or shining lights, big city. A most smart, an excellent players have actually been. You gain lost and also forget the process, forget why you began to play. Through him, the like, ‘What’d you do last night?’ ‘Watched a small TV. I was with friends. My mommy cooked dinner.’ Those are very common nights because that him.”

“He the town hall everyone—Hakeem , Jordan. Ultimately, when he’s done, I’m not saying he’s chasing Jordan, yet he desires to be mentioned up there v LeBron, Kobe, MJ, Hakeem, Barkley. He desires to not be a optimal 50 all-timer. He desires to be a top 10, so it is his goal.

“He"s definitely not thrust by money, I"ll tell girlfriend that. That lives really humble. He wants to it is in a great all-time basketball player.”

Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer because that B/R Mag. A previous staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter in ~ the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling writer of Boys among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and also Sparked a Basketball Revolution. Monitor him on Twitter: 

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