Kawhi Leonard’s entire being as the most modest, non-confrontational superstar in a league full of attention-seekers is as refreshing as it is surprising. Leonard’s taken center stage on the hardwood for five straight years since earning Finals MVP honors with the San Antonio Spurs, and yet, he’s stayed his bashful and pure self. Not even one of the strangest dramas in sports history that ended in his trade to the Toronto Raptors could change him.
In the 2019 postseason, Leonard’s been the NBA’s best player. He’s had every right to boast and morph his personality towards a similar level of arrogance as once-subtle stars who’ve cracked open a bit, like Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But he’s maintained his baggy jeans-wearing level of sameness, and it’s perfect.
Consider this TNT interview after he defeated the Bucks to go up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Q: How do you beat the Bucks four times in a row?
KAWHI: I don’t know. I haven’t done it. We’re taking it one game at a time.
Q: With you one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals, what’s this team’s mentality with history on the line?
KAWHI: I mean, I haven’t even gotten to the locker room yet. We just finished the game.
This isn’t the first time Earnest Kawhi has shown up this postseason.
After a Game 3 win against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the playoffs, Leonard was asked how he was scoring so easily without looking like he was breaking a sweat. He’d just scored 39 points, after all, finishing over some of the best defenders in the league. That question was easy bait for any other of the league’s greats to prop himself on a pedestal of pompousness.
“That’s not fair to the Sixers,” Leonard, dressed in a teal New Balance shirt, told the media earnestly. “I’m definitely breaking a sweat.”
Kawhi remains humble when asked about him scoring without looking like he's breaking a sweat pic.twitter.com/rOUYfZnfLs— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) May 6, 2019
That carried over to the Finals, when a reporter asked if the Raptor wanted to see the ball in Andre Iguodala’s hands compared to the Warriors more elite shooters in the final seconds of a Game 2 loss. Kawhi responded, saying he’d “rather see the ball in our hands.”
Then, when asked to elaborate on whaat happened on that play, Kawhi told the reporter the truth — they’d basically summed up the answer.
These statements are quintessential Kawhi Leonard
There’s delicacy in Leonard’s every statement. Everything he says, he means with 100 percent of his whole heart. It feels as if he has innate restrictions on anger and self-importance. He’s withstood the tests of time, lived through the lows of his career, and still been who we met in the 2014 Finals.
The ever-presence of Leonard is wonderful, and even opposing teams can’t even hate on him. We really had a moment where he told us not that a reporter’s pointless question about what his favorite Christmas moment was was stupid, but that he couldn’t answer the question “right now.”
He also told us that the weather change from San Antonio to Toronto isn’t a big deal really, because, “I just wear a jacket. We’re in buildings a lot. We’re not outside playing in the snow. It’s some good scenery.” As media laughed along to what felt like an insult to the reporter’s question, Leonard didn’t. Because it wasn’t an insult. It was Leonard explaining why he wasn’t cold.
We’ve all seen his hilarious laugh, which was preceded by his statement telling everyone that he’s a “fun guy.” A part we overlooked, though, is Leonard tried incredibly hard to answer a reporter’s vague question. The reporter had asked what Leonard would like people to know about him.
After he struggled for a bit, Leonard said, “There’s more questions you’re going to have to ask me to tell you about myself,” as if to say he was open to answering the question further if the reporter wanted to be more specific. That’s just ... delightful. He’s the furthest from condescending even when he has the right to be.
This is why we’ll forever love Leonard. He is who he is without any influences. His talent is so great we can hardly critique it. His postgame talks are so heartwarming, we can only egg on reporters to try and get him to laugh or smile, because he won’t say anything controversial. And when we finally get the very basic facial response we’re looking for, it becomes a moment for him.
Leonard accidentally built a legacy off kindness and talent, and it isn’t boring. He isn’t overly humble to the point of being corny. He isn’t a ghost we push to the background.
Leonard is a pleasant robot programmed to just be nice.