Everything we know about Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors’ controversial new superstar

Everything we know about Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors’ controversial new superstar

Photo from Toronto Raptors/Instagram

You may have heard his straight-faced claim that he’s “a fun guy.” You may have read about the Raptors acquiring him from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for fan favourite DeMar DeRozan. You’ve definitely heard his laugh. But what else is there to know about the Raptors’ newest phenom, Kawhi Leonard? We break it down below.

He hasn’t been around much lately

Leonard missed almost all of last season because of a leg injury. Athletes get hurt all the time, but this was different: ESPN reported that experts could not agree on what exactly the injury was. Leonard’s reps believed the problem had to do with quadriceps contusions; the Spurs maintained the injury was quadriceps tendinopathy.

It wasn’t just the injury that led to conflict between Leonard and his team—it was who was doing the diagnosing. Leonard’s uncle and his agent reportedly arranged a meeting with an outside doctor, who took control of the rehabilitation process from the Spurs.

The relationship between Leonard and his team was so frayed that his people were reportedly hiding him from Spurs officials:

The injury led to tension on the team. Leonard’s former teammate Tony Parker, speaking to reporters, said he’d experienced the “same kind of injury,” adding that his was “100 times worse.” The comment seemed harmless, but Leonard’s reps were reportedly angry.

There was a closed-door meeting, run by Parker, in which Leonard’s teammates urged him to return to the court.

Leonard was eager to leave San Antonio, but he’s reportedly not thrilled about playing in Toronto:

“Without all this medical drama…we have no chance of talking to a player like that—zero,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said.

He lost his father while he was still in high school

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported that Leonard, still a high school student, had broken down after a Saturday night game. The previous evening, his father, Mark Leonard, had been fatally shot at a car wash he owned in Compton. Leonard felt compelled to play, regardless.

According to Fox Sports, Leonard lived mainly with his mother, but spent time working at his dad’s car wash. His time with his father was obviously formative: Leonard recalled running with his father, throwing around a football, and playing basketball with him. According to Leonard, his father was “kinda mad” when he said he wanted to quit football to focus on basketball. “He wanted me to play both—and maximize my opportunity.”

He’s surrounded by family

Leonard has four older sisters. It’s possible that being the baby of the family helped form his low-key personality. As Sports Illustrated reports: “He called coaches and parents sir and ma’am. He handed footballs to officials after touchdowns. He passed basketballs to friends instead of shooting them himself.”

He is good at basketball

Leonard was practically designed for the sport:

Michael Jordan called him “the best two-way player in the game.” (Even so, Leonard’s relationship with Jordan’s namesake shoe brand soured earlier this year.)

In 2009, when Leonard was in high school, the Los Angeles Times described him as “a tenacious rebounder,” and someone who can play all five positions. The paper noted that Leonard’s future college, San Diego State University, was an undistinguished landing spot for such a talented player.

Leonard was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 2011 after an abbreviated college career:

The team then promptly traded him to San Antonio, where, according to Sports Illustrated, the coaching staff worked on turning him from a strong rebounder into a relentless scorer.

After joining the Spurs, Leonard accumulated a small mountain of awards, including an NBA championship, a finals Most Valuable Player title, and two Defensive Player of the Year awards.