Kawhi Leonard reportedly was dead set on returning to Southern California all along. A graduate of Riverside King and San Diego State, Leonard talked to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports about how he always wanted to use the free agency opportunity to reunite with his family in Los Angeles.
With he and fellow Southern Californian Paul George with the Clippers, his desire has been perfectly realized.
“He told me in our interview that everybody knew he wanted to get back home to Los Angeles, even before the trade to Toronto happened,” Haynes said to Colin Cowherd on his Fox Sports show. “Remember, he wasn’t happy about getting shipped to Toronto. He said his time being away from his family did something to him. He said when he would come back home, one moment his nieces and nephews were babies and the next moments they’re like 7-8 years old. He said he missed them grow up and didn’t have a chance to see that and that bothered him. This decision wasn’t about basketball, it was purely family.”
CBS Sports reported that the 2-time Finals MVP was very close to signing with the Lakers or Raptors instead. While the addition of George was the final motivating factor, Haynes indicated that Leonard was simply homesick in Toronto.
Haynes also explains that Leonard’s departure from Canada was cold for this very reason.
“One thing that caught me was when Kawhi went up there, and I thought he would thank the Raptors fans, thank the organization and probably mention the front office like Paul George did,” he said. “He didn’t do that, he thanked the Raptors fans, and then thanked all the local restaurants for giving him free meals. I don’t think Raptors fans got the closure they would looking for and he didn’t really address them much in a sincere way.”
Here’s the audio from the exchange with Cowherd.
Leonard’s Family Comes First
Kawhi’s dad, Mark Leonard, was murdered in 2008 at his car wash in Compton. Kim Robertson, Kawhi’s mother, worried about how his father’s death affect him emotionally for the rest of his life.
“I really didn’t see Kawhi suffer from it,” Kim explained to ESPN. “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.”
One person who filled that father figure role for Leonard is his Uncle Dennis, who became famous during the All-Star’s deteriorating relationship with the Spurs two seasons ago.
“With my dad passing away, there aren’t too many men in the family and he’s a great guy to just talk to that has been through my experiences at my age,” Kawhi explained to the San Antonio Express-News. “He’s just been through life already; good guy to talk to.”
Dennis noted that he tried to help Kawhi in any way he could after the death of his father.
“Our family has always been close,” Dennis told the San Antonio Express-News. “It didn’t change the way I looked at things. I was happy to be there so my sister wouldn’t have to go through that process.”
Leonard is sure to thank his mother for her guidance, as well.
“My mom, she’s been (this age) before,” Kawhi noted to the San Antonio Express-News. “She’s been through this life cycle. I definitely try to use her knowledge and her wisdom to help me in my day of life.”