Many of us know Kawhi Leonard as what some would call the best small forward in the modern professional basketball league. Some may even refer to him when talking about the best player in the world today as well. Charles Barkley has called Leonard the best player in the league on several occasions. Aside from all of that, it’s easy to call him one of the most humble players as well.
Kawhi Leonard has a very positive outlook on his profession and always focuses on how he can better himself as a basketball player. This mentality has certainly paid off for the Southern California native, as it shows in his game. Every coach that has spent time with Leonard states that he is extremely mindful and absorbent of a coach’s advice. Because of this, it becomes clear that Leonard is very meticulous and critical with the way he treats his craft. But when you look at his background, these things become far less surprising. A humble and persistent approach has always existed within Leonard’s nature. So let’s take a look into Kawhi’s life and see what has made him one of the best in the NBA. Here are 15 facts that you probably never knew about Kawhi Leonard.
15. Not A Big Spender
This is one of the defining examples of Kawhi Leonard’s humble nature. Kawhi drove a silver Chevy Malibu throughout his college years, although it was not his first car. The first car that Kawhi Leonard had ever owned was a 1997 Chevy Tahoe. He never owned a different ride aside from these two cars before spending some time in the NBA, despite Leonard’s family and himself being well-off. Even after he was drafted into the professional league, he continued driving the same Chevy Malibu, never purchasing anything newer. He did not buy a new car until after his freshman season of his professional career. This is pretty impressive for a young kid out of college who just signed a big-league contract. Leonard eventually ended up with a silver Porsche after being “peer-pressured” by his friends and family.
14. Martin Luther King High School
Before becoming one of the greatest players in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard was a regular kid that grew up in Los Angeles, CA. He attended Martin Luther King High school, where he graduated with his class of 2009. Leonard missed his high school’s basketball try-outs during his freshman year. He didn’t have a ride because his mom was out of town. Leonard called the high school’s basketball coach in hopes of finding some kind of break, but was still unable to play for the team. Instead, he spent his time playing for the football team during his freshman year of high school, putting basketball off until his final three years. During his senior year, Kawhi Leonard had earned himself the title of Mr. Basketball California. He led the Martin Luther King High Wolves through a powerhouse season in 2009. With the help of Tony Snell, the team totalled 30 wins and only 3 losses.
13. No Social Media
Here is more information that sort of exemplifies Kawhi Leonard’s mellow and down-to-earth state of mind. Kawhi Leonard has a very large presence. He is well-known throughout the NBA community, fans, and is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition. Any time that Leonard spends on the court, his presence is not only apparent, but it is nearly forced upon the players around him as well as the audience. However, Kawhi Leonard does not have the same affliction of presence in his social circle as he does when he is on the basketball court. Some may think that this is unintentional. But his lack of existence in the cyber world proves that he simply does not care for the attention that social media would bring into his life. Anything that Leonard has to say, he will proudly announce it aloud during interviews and games for the public to absorb.
12. 15th Overall Draft Selection
After an explosive two years of college basketball, there was no doubt that Leonard would end up doing something in the professional league. In 2011, Leonard was initially drafted to the NBA by the Indiana Pacers. However, he was pleased to be informed that he would be sent to the San Antonio Spurs in a trade that involved George Hill. He was told about the trade within only just a few minutes of being announced into the Indiana roster during the draft. Half of the NBA teams selected someone else while Kawhi Leonard was an available rookie-to-be. It goes undoubted that each team is regretful for missing the opportunity. Out of the 14 players that were drafted ahead of him, more than half of them have not even appeared in the playoffs.
11. NBA All-Rookie
The All-Rookie team is an honor that is issued annually by the NBA. It is only issued to the top performing rookies within the regular season, which excludes the post season. The first NBA All-Rookie team took place during the 1962-63 season. However, a second team was added to the concept during the 1988-89 regular season. Kawhi Leonard was voted onto the first team after his rookie performance through the regular season. His rookie season took place in 2011, where he averaged 8 points, 1.3 steals, and more than 5 rebounds each game. His regular season performance landed him on the 2012 first team. Leonard became the 10th player from the San Antonio Spurs franchise to be honored by being placed on an NBA All-Rookie Team. When voted in, Kawhi Leonard tied in votes with Iman Shumpert and Brandon Knight. The 2012 NBA All-Rookie first team ultimately consisted of Leonard, Shumpert, and Knight, along with Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried, and Klay Thompson.
10. “R.I.P” Tattoo
Kawhi Leonard grew up in a family without any brothers, but he had plenty of sisters. Being the only boy, he was the youngest of five children. Leonard and his 4 sisters were born to Mike Leonard and Kim Robertson. Kawhi Leonard was born in the city of Los Angeles, California on July 29 in the year of 1991, making him now 25 years of age. Kawhi Leonard’s father, Mike Leonard, was the owner of a car wash in their hometown of Los Angeles. During his younger years, Kawhi Leonard often enjoyed lending a helping hand to his father at the family car wash. Leonard says that these memorable times were some of his favorite bonding moments with his father. Unfortunately, Kawhi faced a horrible tragedy when his father was murdered one day while working at the wash. Now, when you see Kawhi Leonard in his San Antonio Spurs jersey, you can note that he has a tattoo on his shoulder in honor of his father, which says “R.I.P. Dad.”
9. NBA All-Defense
The NBA All-Defensive team is another honor that is issued annually by the NBA. This honor is given to those NBA players that perform with the utmost impressive defensive abilities throughout the regular season. The NBA All-Defense team began in the 1968-69 NBA season. Kawhi Leonard was first deemed as an NBA All-Defense team member during the 2013-14 season, when he was voted onto the NBA All-Defensive second team. It is fairly impressive that this came only 2 years after his rookie season in the professional league. During the following season, Kawhi Leonard made the NBA All-Defensive first team with the most votes. He was also honored with the Defensive Player of the Year Award, that same year. He went on to reach for the same double-accomplishment the following year. This means that Kawhi Leonard has been honored with the NBA All-Defense award for more than half of the seasons within his professional career.
8. Dedicated College Life
Some may see professional athletes and think that they live a casual and blithe lifestyle while they aren’t playing a game or in practice. But this is never the case for the greatest of the great. Kawhi Leonard invests far more into his game than just attending San Antonio Spurs practices. Upgrading his game is something that is on Kawhi’s mind at all hours. He has had this persistent mentality since before he was in the NBA. During Leonard’s college basketball days, he would be up and leaving his house by 5 a.m. each and every day. Leonard has said in interviews that he always woke up extra early every day just to work out and run basketball drills, usually by himself. This was part of his daily college routine before going to his classes.
7. San Diego State University
After attending Martin Luther King High School in Los Angeles, Kawhi decided to stay in the Southern California area. Kawhi Leonard went on to attend college for two years at San Diego State University of California. He had a very impressive two seasons of college basketball while attending the university where he excelled in his classes. During his college basketball career, he was first team all-conference both years, as well as a consensus second team all-American during his second year. During Kawhi Leonard’s first basketball season with San Diego State University, he averaged more than 12 and a half points per game, and just under 10 rebounds per game. During his second season playing basketball with San Diego State, Leonard averaged 10.6 rebounds and 15 and a half points per game. Throughout his whole college career, Leonard averaged 14.1 points, 10.2 rebounds per game.
6. Youngest Finals MVP Since Magic Johnson
During the 2013-14 season, Kawhi Leonard averaged about 13 points per game. Who would have thought that he would go on to put up an even higher average during the following post season? During these playoffs, Kawhi Leonard averaged 6.7 rebounds and more than 14 points each game. But it quickly became apparent that he was hungry. The young junior-year NBA star didn’t slow down. In the 2014 NBA Finals, Leonard was the 2nd highest scoring player in the series, averaging 17.8 points per game. This was less compared to Tony Parkers’ 18 points per game. Leonard also grabbed nearly 6 and a half rebounds per game. By the end of the finals series, Kawhi Leonard was named Most Valuable Player of the 2014 NBA Finals. At the time, Leonard was only 22 years of age. This made him the youngest player in the NBA to be honored with the MVP Award since Magic Johnson. Leonard is now the third youngest player to ever win the award.
5. Jordan Brand MVP
Many of the greatest players have been featured to be sponsored NBA athletes for Michael Jordan’s worldwide-famous brand. The brand currently sponsors players that include Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin, and Kawhi Leonard, along with 15 other NBA athletes. Most of these Jordan sponsored athletes have not appeared in the finals. Yet even more surprisingly, only one of these players has ever managed to be honored as the Most Valuable Player of any NBA Finals. And no, we aren’t talking about Michael Jordan. Kawhi Leonard has represented the Jordan brand in a way that no athlete ever has, aside from the actual creator of the brand himself. No other professional athlete has ever been named MVP of the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan earned himself the same honor on 6 separate occasions throughout the 90s.
4. Spur For Life
Although Kawhi Leonard was initially drafted to the Indiana Pacers, he was almost immediately removed and taken to the home team of San Antonio, Texas. In interviews, Leonard says that he would dedicate himself to his profession and give one-hundred percent, no matter which NBA team he would end up on. However, he has also expressed on multiple occasions that there is no other team in the entire world that he would rather play for than the Spurs. With the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard gets a healthy dose of interaction with a diversity of veteran style. It has surely benefitted Kawhi Leonard’s overall basketball abilities to play with the likes of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. Not only has the franchise helped Leonard, but Leonard has certainly helped the franchise. And luckily for San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard doesn’t see himself changing teams any time soon. Leonard has stated in the past that he would like to be a Spur for his “whole life.”
3. Momma’s Boy
We went over the fact that Kawhi drove the same car during his first professional year as he did in college. It is clear that the athlete is not fascinated by materialistic things, nor does he care to spend mounds of cash on unnecessary things. With that being said, this next example is very evident of just that. Even while playing in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard shared a home with his mother. According to San Diego Union Tribune, Kawhi stayed in a two story home with his mom during his freshman, sophomore, and junior professional NBA years. One might think it to be unorthodox for a professional athlete to still be living with his mother. However, it is a little more understandable once you realize he only spent two years in college. Therefore, Leonard was actually still very young when he was drafted into the big leagues.
2. Professor Playoff
Kawhi Leonard appeared in the playoffs during his freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years spent in the professional league. As a matter of fact, he showed up in the playoffs last year as well. This means that Leonard has spent the end of each and every one of his professional seasons competing in the post season for the championship. But the post season games never seem to intimidate Kawhi Leonard, as he plays the game vigorously when the stakes are higher. It just so happens to be that Leonard consistently plays at his peak during the times that he performs in the playoffs. During the 2012-13 season, Kawhi Leonard averaged a total of 9 rebounds per game in the playoffs. Last season, he averaged 2.6 steals each game throughout the playoffs. Both of these are higher than he has ever averaged in the regular season. During last year’s playoffs, Leonard scored 22 and a half points each game on average, being higher than he’s ever averaged through season.
1. Third Triple-Threat In NBA History
Leonard was deemed an NBA All-Star, a Finals MVP, and the Defensive Player of the Year, all within one season. To be named with any one of these three amazing honors would be relatively impressive for any NBA player to receive. But furthermore, it is much more impressive to obtain the three altogether in a single season, as this is an extremely rare accomplishment. Kawhi Leonard is only the third professional basketball player to ever do this in a season throughout the history of the NBA. The only other two players to be named All-Star, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year, all within the same season, were Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Not many players are able to categorize themselves with players such as Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon in any fashion.