Kawhi Leonard’s dad, Mark Leonard, died on January 18, 2008 after being shot in Compton, California. Leonard was shot multiple times and was pronounced dead at the hospital, per The Los Angeles Times.
Mark was at his car wash at the time of the shooting and was trying to finish up his work so he could watch Kawhi’s game, per ESPN. Kawhi’s father was just 43 years old at the time of his death.
Kawhi rarely talks about personal matters, but those close to the NBA All-Star stress how close he was to his father. Kawhi’s mother, Kim Robertson, spoke with ESPN in 2014 about Mark’s passing.
“Me and my brother were in the car,” Robertson told ESPN. “Kawhi was in the back and he just says, ‘My dad is dead.’ I really didn’t see Kawhi suffer from it. I wanted him to. I would say, ‘Kawhi, you OK? You OK?’ But I think he just kept it in. I was kind of scared. You know how young men, they lose their father, who is a big figure in their life. It might turn them to do things bad. But Kawhi’s always been strong. He’s a good kid. He wants to get better and better.”
The Los Angeles Times reported after the murder that there was no arrest and the motive for the shooting was unknown. Kawhi was in high school at Riverside King when his dad passed away. He ended up playing in the team’s game the night after the shooting.
“Basketball helps me take my mind off things, picking me up every day when I’m feeling down,” Kawhi told The Los Angeles Times after the game in 2008. “Basketball is my life, and I wanted to go out there and take my mind off it. It was real sad. My father was supposed to be at the game.”
Denzel Washington Was at Kawhi Leonard’s High School Game After the Death of His Father
Denzel Washington was in attendance for the game after Kawhi’s dad passed away. Denzel was at the gym to watch his son play and discussed on The Bill Simmons Podcast how impressed he was with Kawhi’s ability to play through grief.
“(My son) had a game and there was a second game and it was a school called King Riverside that was playing a team — I think from Atlanta — and I remember because that night they said, ‘There’s a young man who’s playing tonight whose father had been killed,'” Denzel said, per KSAT ABC 12. “We had a moment of silence for him, and the kid’s name was Kawhi Leonard, and he had about 29 points and 27 rebounds and I figured, ‘Wow this kid is inspired by losing his dad.’ And what a game. And no one knew, ‘Oh no, he’ll be able to do that for the next 20 years.'”
After His Dad’s Death, Kawhi Said He “Felt Like the World Stopped”
Kawhi received the news from his sister who called to tell him about the tragedy. Kawhi noted that he was in shock after learning his father had been shot.
“She said that our dad died,” Kawhi noted to Fox Sports in 2011. “I felt like the world stopped. I didn’t want to believe it. It didn’t feel real to me…I’m not sure what happened I really don’t know anything other than someone random came to the car wash and shot him. I think it’s better for me not knowing who it is.”