In 2008, Kawhi Leonard was a young basketball player from California who was at his tiny college. That year, Michael Jordan retired from the NBA, and everyone was shocked that he was leaving. However, nobody expected Michael Jordan to retire, let alone a minor college basketball player, and for a few years, he was a reserve player for the Charlotte Bobcats.
The buzz in the NBA is that Kawhi Leonard has a new obsession: Michael Jordan. Apparently, the Toronto Raptors’ star has been taking a page from the Bulls legend’s playbook and has been working out in the gym to complete his likeness. It’s common knowledge that Leonard has been studying Jordan’s moves and has been working out with the possible “30-time NBA Champion” during his free time, but with what? After he …
With a new contract in hand, the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is a player that most people have a vested interest in. Leonard is a budding superstar that has a chance to be a Top 5 player in the NBA. He is at that age were you can achieve superstardom, but it can be derailed by distractions that cause you to lose sight of the goal.
For supporters, Kawhi Leonard is a bit of a lightning rod. As one of just three players to earn Finals MVP accolades with several teams, he’s undeniably amazing. However, his exit from the San Antonio Spurs was unpleasant, he dragged out several free agency choices, and he is the poster child for load management. However, as a freshman at San Diego State, his infatuation with one player, Michael Jordan, led the way to an almost certain Hall of Fame career.
Leonard wasn’t your average recruit. Coaches couldn’t get him to pick up the phone or send a text. Recruiting him, on the other hand, was a another story. His personality peculiarities were a major part of why he chose to play for the Aztecs instead of one of the more renowned schools on the West Coast.
Kawhi Leonard was just looking to hoop.
As a senior in high school, Kawhi Leonard was awarded Mr. Basketball in California. Lonzo Ball, Aaron Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Trevor Ariza are among the previous champions. All four of them competed in the Pac-12 Conference (or its predecessor, the Pac-10). Leonard went on to play in the Mountain West Conference for San Diego State.
Tim Shelton, a former college teammate, told The Athletic in 2019 that he had a hunch about why the Pac-12 schools didn’t pursue Leonard.
“They were like, ‘He’s sort of a 4-man, and we can’t call him and speak to him,’ they said. He doesn’t seem to want to speak with us.”
On his formal visit to San Diego State, Leonard was welcomed by guard DJ Gay. It wasn’t your usual glimpse at the glitzy side of college life.
“To be honest, all he wanted to do was go to the gym. ‘Kawhi, what do you want to do?’ we asked. ‘Let’s get some exercise,’ he said. Let’s go take some pictures. ‘Let’s get this party started.’
Michael Jordan had a role in Leonard’s one-track mentality.
In the 2011 West Region semifinals, Connecticut’s Roscoe Smith (22) goes up against San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard (15) for a rebound. Leonard studied Michael Jordan extensively while at San Diego State. | Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Kawhi Leonard had a special fixation, according to team manager John Van Houten.
“He’d come over to my home and watch Michael Jordan highlights,” says the narrator. We dubbed them the ‘Mike highs’… I’m talking about anything like four or five hours at a time.”
Leonard was setting a high standard for himself, according to guard LaBradford Franklin.
“’I’m Mike,’ he’d always say. Do you like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant? They’re great, but my name is Mike. I want to be the best, the finest of all time.’ We could tell he was serious by the way he conducted himself. We understood that was his true desire.”
Leonard, like Jordan, is prone to taking things personally. Assistant coach Dave Velasquez discussed the team’s upcoming journey to California. Leonard had a point to make, and he was able to do it.
“I’ll never forget our game against Cal. Cal didn’t believe he was good enough, he recalled, and he heard that the head coach at the time, Mike Montgomery, didn’t think he was either. He made it his personal goal to find a way to eliminate Cal.
“They had a fantastic squad. Allen Crabbe was in attendance. They had a group of people working for them. But Kawhi went up to Cal, and you knew they had no chance when he stepped on the court that game. It was just absurd.”
All defensive challenges were also taken up by Leonard. When the Aztecs faced Fresno State, he wanted to defend Paul George. He wanted point guard Jimmer Fredette, the national player of the year, against BYU.
He didn’t only have Jordan’s work ethic to pat. He has also mastered motivation and a desire for the most difficult tasks.
In San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard became a celebrity.
In two of Kawhi Leonard’s first three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, the team advanced to the NBA Finals. Leonard averaged 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in a seven-game defeat to the Miami Heat in 2013. The next year, he improved his performance. He was named Finals MVP after averaging 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 61.2 percent overall and 11-of-19 from 3-point range.
Leonard was on fire for the Raptors against the two-time reigning champion Golden State Warriors five years later. While leading Toronto to its first NBA championship, he averaged 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 40.5 minutes per game.
Leonard’s problem isn’t one of talent; it’s one of endurance. Leonard has only missed fewer than 10 games in a season twice in his ten NBA seasons.
Leonard has missed 35 regular-season games since joining the Los Angeles Clippers in 2019. He also sat out the last eight playoff games last season and will be out for the most of next season, if not all, due to knee surgery.
Kawhi Leonard has agreed to a four-year, $176.3 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. However, although he possesses Jordan’s work ethic, he lacks Jordan’s skill for remaining in the lineup.
Basketball Reference provided the statistics.
RELATED: Former NFL Superstar WR Kawhi Leonard Delivered a Harsh Truth Bomb About His Title Chances in LA: ‘The Clippers Will Be the Clippers, It’s Just the Clippers,’ says the team.
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