The Emergence of Kawhi Leonard

Alex Edmonds
5 min readAug 17, 2019

Throughout the 2019 playoffs, Kawhi gave us a big fat reminder of how special of a player he is.

He dominated. Plain and simple.

Kawhi had so many memorable moments in the playoffs, with the standout play being his series-winning shot against the Sixers in the 2nd round. He was outstanding from April to June, with one of the best individual playoff performances of all time. An effort that ultimately led to bringing the Raptors their first championship in NBA history.

From a legacy standpoint, it is crazy to think about how much has changed for Kawhi in just one year.

Just last summer, people were questioning Kawhi’s passion for the game. After his whole incident with the Spurs, Kawhi received criticism from sports analysts as well as Spurs fans, many thinking that he was skipping out on playing due to lack of interest. In reality, Kawhi was coming off of a serious quad injury and he felt that the Spurs and their medical staff were rushing him back onto the court when, really, he wasn’t healthy.

It was this disagreement between Kawhi’s personal doctors and the Spurs medical staff that ultimately created such a dramatic situation in San Antonio.

In the end, Kawhi had the final say, which led to him sitting out the majority of the 2017–2018 season. Kawhi only played 9 games throughout the entire season, making him irrelevant to many in the NBA community. And for sports networks and fans that followed the Spurs/Kawhi situation closely, they were quick to criticize Kawhi, claiming that he was being an ‘obnoxious diva’ throughout the entire season.

With many Spurs fans and NBA analysts speaking negatively of Kawhi during the 2018 offseason, the NBA community was shocked when the Toronto Raptors pulled one of the riskiest trades in NBA history. A trade where the Raptors gave up DeMar DeRozan, their franchise all-star who had been with the team for 9 seasons, for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

After the trade, the NBA world was quick to bash Masai Ujiri, the Raptors President, for taking such a gamble on Kawhi Leonard, a player that hadn’t played consistently since the 2017 playoffs.

Looking back, everything about this trade was such a shot in the dark. Aside from the gamble on Kawhi’s health, the Raptors were ditching DeMar DeRozan, a player who was not only a star, but a player that was also committed to the Raptors organization for life. And it’s extremely rare to find a player willing to live in Canada long term. But even still, they decided to ditch DeMar and sacrificed a whole lot for just one guaranteed year of Kawhi.

Although the Raptors had a possibility of signing Kawhi to a long term deal, they were well aware that his main desire was to play in LA for either the Clippers or the Lakers. But even with the large possibility that the Raptors would only get one season with Kawhi Leonard, Masai still went for it.

People thought the Raptor’s president was crazy for making such a trade and players around the league were quick to criticize the organization for being disloyal to DeMar.

Despite all this criticism that Raptor’s management had to deal with, they ultimately got the last laugh when all was said and done.

Masai’s gamble paid off when the Raptors won the NBA finals. And Kawhi proved to the Raptors and the rest of the NBA that he was well worth the sacrifices they had to make.

Kawhi was on a different level during the playoffs, carrying the Raptors in game 7 against the Sixers, and continuing to do so for the rest of the postseason. His playoff run was truly legendary.

Kawhi had the highest playoff scoring average since 2000 with 30.5 points per game. He was incredible, and it’s crazy how he fell off of everyone’s radar after last season’s fiasco with the Spurs.

What even more admirable about Kawhi is how he carries himself. It’s great to see someone so humble achieve such great success. This man never tried to defend himself to the media, he never trash-talked other players, and he never responded to the fans that were badmouthing him. He just went out onto the court every night and kicked the shit out of the competition. How can anybody hate on that?

Kawhi’s performance really speaks to the amount of time and effort that he put in during the offseason. Despite missing the 2017–2018 season, Kawhi not only returned to his old-self, but he came back even better than before. The amount of work that he put into making such a comeback proves that his passion for the game runs deep.

The process wasn’t pretty though. During his post-game interview after winning the finals, Kawhi spoke about how difficult the 2018 summer was for him. He was coming back from an injury, and there were a lot of people doubting his ability to ever be a superstar again. Not only this, but Kawhi also revealed that some of the negative media attention was disappointing to him. There were people out there who believed that he didn’t want to play the game of basketball, and that was far from the truth.

After watching everything unfold from last summer to now, it’s great to see how well Kawhi has bounced back. This whole series of events goes to show that we shouldn’t believe a narrative that is being told by the media. Sometimes we don’t get the full story.

And for Kawhi, he proved everybody wrong through his actions. After winning the 2019 NBA Finals MVP award, he showed all naysayers that he is still one of the best in the league and that he will go down as a legend when all is said and done.