NBA star Kawhi Leonard is a hard man to read. He carries a famous reputation for keeping to himself and avoids speaking if he can help it. It's one of the things that sets the Clippers phenom apart from the likes of Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant and his teammate, Russell Westbrook. A life-altering blow cracked Leonard's stone-faced demeanor on January 18, 2008. That night, the 16-year old basketball player discovered his dad had been murdered. This is the story of Kawhi Leonard's dad and why he chooses to keep his family out of the spotlight.
What Happened to Kawhi Leonard's Dad?
Kawhi Leonard's father, Mark Leonard, was closing his Compton-based car wash early. He just learned that his wife Jacquelyne was pregnant with a son, but he has his eldest son to on his ind that night. His son had a high school basketball game he wasn't going to miss. On his way out, a car pulled in and asked for one final wash. Mark obliged.
The driver opened fire, shooting and ending Mark's life. He was 43 years old.
Kawhi, then a junior at Riverside King High School, heard the news on a phone call from his sister while driving with his mom and uncle. He insisted on playing.
Leonard scored 17 points at an electric Pauley Pavillion, but his team lost 68-60 to Dominguez Hills.
The future NBA player fell into his mother's arms in an arena hallway following the game. Emotions crumbled.
"After the game, he just broke down," Kim Robertson, Kawhi's mom, told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne in 2014. "They were close. Very close."
The culprit still hasn't been found.
Leonard Blossomed Into NBA All-Star
Like Michael Jordan before him, Kawhi internalized his father's death as fuel to accomplish his NBA dream. He earned a scholarship to San Diego State University and became a lottery pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He hindered LeBron James in the 2014 NBA Finals to win the San Antonio Spurs' fifth championship.
Fittingly, he was named NBA Finals MVP on father's day.
The superstar traveled north of the border to lead the Toronto Raptors to an improbable NBA playoff run that culminated in a title over the Golden State Warriors in 2019. The five-time NBA All-Star earned his second Finals MVP.
In July 2019, Kawhi returned home to California by signing a three-year, $103 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Los Angeles Lakers. LA native and fellow NBA star Paul George joined. They look to break the Clip's postseason woes as one of the 11 teams without an NBA championship. However, nearing the end of year three with the LA Clippers, the duo has yet to come through. Granted, the two have struggled to remain healthy since they've been teammates.
If the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year chose poker over basketball, he wouldn't budge. If you asked him about the death of his father, he wouldn't say much. That's who Kawhi Leonard is: a quiet, relentless worker who works hard for every assist and rebound, and one of the best players in the game.
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