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Kawhi turned tragedy to true grit

China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-14 09:24
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors in game five of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena, June 10, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Dealing with his father's murder honed All-Star's trademark calm

OAKLAND, California - After coping with the trauma of his father's murder as a 16-year-old, Kawhi Leonard has no difficulty putting basketball in its proper perspective.

On Thursday, the Toronto Raptors star will try to lead the Canadian franchise to its first NBA championship - and the first for any team from outside the United States - with a victory in Game 6 of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

Leonard's 31.1 points-per-game average in the playoffs has sparked the Raptors to a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series as they look to finish the Warriors without needing a decisive seventh game on Sunday in Toronto.

Leonard's trademark calm demeanor on the court has rubbed off on his teammates, helping them handle pressure situations and not get caught up in the moment.

It's something Leonard has had since his father, Mark Leonard, was shot dead in 2008 at the car wash he owned in Compton, a Los Angeles suburb, in a crime that has never been solved.

"Once it happened, I thought about it a lot. But as I got older, I pretty much just really stopped thinking about it," Leonard said on Wednesday.

"It just gave me a sense and feel that life and basketball are two different things and to just really enjoy your time and moments.

"This is basketball. Just go out there and have fun. These are going to be the best years of my life, playing this game.

"Being this young, you shouldn't be stressing in life about things that really don't matter. As long as your family is healthy, you're able to see the people you love and you're able to walk, run. Go out here, lay it all out on the floor, do the best job I could possibly do and try to win."

His mindset is on the challenge of each play as it comes, each game as it unfolds.

"To really say, 'Oh, I feel so much pressure.' You really don't. Once your adrenaline starts pumping, it's a lot different watching the game because your mindset is totally different. You're within that moment and you're embracing it and enjoying what's going to happen next."

Leonard has enjoyed a lot over his career - an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award in 2014 with San Antonio and NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors the next two seasons.

The Raptors have enjoyed it all with him this season after his trade from San Antonio last July.

"He's been able to show his full repertoire this season. The playoffs has made it even a bigger stage," Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.

"I think he's the best two-way player in the NBA. He just goes. I've seen some stuff from him this year that just you say, 'Wow.' You appreciate the work he puts in. He works extremely hard at his game and his body. And he loves to play."

Raptors coach Nick Nurse sees Leonard's toughness coming from hard times in his youth.

"Probably not basketball-related things, probably the way he was raised or the environment he grew up in," Nurse said. "He's certainly tough, strong and composed."

A 'gamer'

Rivals have an appreciation for his talent, notably Golden State star guard Stephen Curry.

"He's a gamer," Curry said of Leonard. "He just makes winning plays. He's shown offensively how dynamic he is. He requires attention at all times.

"For us, it's just playing the long game, understanding that he might have great numbers and whatnot, but it's just a matter of can we get the stops that matter.

"He's just a competitor. We respect that, for sure. He's shown that again throughout this entire playoff run."

Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala sees Leonard as the rare player with the physical gifts and mental discipline to make the most of them.

"He's a winner," Iguodala said. "It doesn't show up in any type of data, what a winner is.

"When you're going against that, you have a different type of respect for it."

Agence France-Presse



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