Kawhi Leonard has grown a reputation for rarely showing emotion, but on the night the San Antonio Spurs clinched their fifth NBA championship, the third-year forward had plenty to smile about.
After a series where he averaged 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, the former San Diego State standout was awarded the NBA Finals MVP award as the confetti rained down at AT&T Center on Sunday night.
Leonard is the youngest player to win the Finals MVP trophy since Magic Johnson captured the award in 1980. Youth, however, is not the only factor that makes Leonard’s achievement, or the timing of it, truly special.
Back when Kawhi was just a junior at Riverside King High School in California, what was supposed to be a routine drive home from a basketball game turned out to be an unforgettably tragic moment after one ominous phone call from his sister. He told Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman a couple years ago,
She said that our dad died. I felt like the world stopped. I didn’t want to believe it; it didn’t feel real to me.
The day was January 18, 2008, and the scene of the crime was his father’s workplace in Compton. Like many killings in the notorious Southern California city, the murder of Kawhi’s dad, Mark Leonard, seemed senseless.
I'm not sure what happened. I really don't know anything other than someone random came to the car wash and shot him.
Leonard had every reason to put all his energy and focus toward the goal of capturing his first NBA championship after a bitter loss in 2013. Still, he was likely to be cognizant of the fact that his date with destiny fell on Father’s Day.
It’s no wonder, then, that after his exceptional 22-point, 9-rebound performance that helped the Spurs redeem their 2013 Finals loss, the 6-foot-7 forward continuously labeled the moment as “surreal” on a day all sons would find it hard not to think of their dads.
“I think he'd be proud of me,” Leonard told Goodman during his sophomore season at San Diego State.
Six years after his dad’s murder, with the NBA Finals MVP trophy in hand, there’s no doubt his father would be.
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