Growing up as kids, many current NBA players
recall the days of their youth where they
visualized themselves getting drafted to the
For some it was a dream come true and for
others it was a lost fantasy that vanished
never to return.
But in both of these instances there was a
The objective within everyone’s eyes was
to be the one to finally make it.
NBA player Kawhi Leonard is the one who made
Although he is now a superstar, many fans
are not aware of the challenges he has faced
to get to where he is today.
To truly understand Kawhi Leonard we must
first understand where he came from.
In today’s video we take a trip into the
past to explore the rough journey that led
to Kawhi Leonard becoming an NBA superstar.
Welcome to NBA Insider!
A man who is seen as one of the best in the
Just who is Kawhi Leonard?
Born in Riverside, California on June 29th
1991, to divorced parents, Mark Leonard and
Kim Robertson, Kawhi Anthony Leonard grew
up living with his mom.
As the youngest child in a family that included
the likes of 4 older four sisters, all of
whom he was extremely close with, he was brought
up in an dangerous environment.
At the time of his birth, with a total of
2,589 murders in 1991, including 517 homicides
in July and August alone, the city of Los
Angeles as a whole was ranked one of the most
crime-ridden cities in the United States.
Due to this negative exposure from a young
age, Kawhi became visible to the damaging
influences and harsh realities associated
with the streets including drugs, gangs and
Luckily for him he had sports to help steer
Despite this, what many people might not believe
was that it was actually the sport of football
that first helped keep him busy during his
Kawhi first indulged in the game playing as
a wide receiver.
However, due to his hate for knee pads and
attending practices, his love for the sport
would slowly fade.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year in high
school that he finally decided to quit playing
football for good.
However, Leonard’s father was not to fond
of his decision.
You see, Mark Leonard was not just his dad,
but also his best friend and role model.
He helped develop Kawhis game both in football
Together the two would lift weights, play
catch, do sprints and attend nearly all of
In fact, since the time the two spent together
was limited, due to his parents’ divorce,
the duo would spend most of Leonard’s childhood
at his father’s popular car wash located
It was here where Leonard would spend countless
summer days learning the importance of an
honest day’s work.
Following a long day of washing and detailing
dozens of cars, they would go out and play
some more football.
So when Kawhis father, a big football fan
himself, found out his son was leaving the
sport he thought he loved to pursue basketball,
it really hurt.
Regardless, after learning that Kawhi’s heart
was more on the court than the field, Mark
supported his decision.
After all, Kawhis love for the game was there
from the start.
As a child Leonard dreamed of becoming one
of the greats in basketball history after
watching Michael Jordan’s 1988 documentary
As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for the
circumstance that he had missed tryouts for
the Canyon Spring High’s Freshman basketball
team in Moreno Valley, chances are he would
have begun playing a year earlier in ninth
You see, Leonard’s mom, Kim Robertson, had
to work out of town during his basketball
tryouts, leaving Kawhi without a ride.
Due to this he would go on to miss the session
which resulted in him losing a spot on the
Although Kawhi attempted to email his coach
informing him about the situation, the coaching
staff still refused to accept him.
So with no remaining option, and just in his
freshman year, he decided to play football
The following year he would once again try
out and successfully make it as a 6’6″ 190
lbs sophomore playing for the Canyon Spring
Eventually, Leonard found an AAU coach and
mentor named Marvin Lea, a man who not only
accepted Kawhi as a person but who saw a lot
of potential in him as a young star.
With a new found love for the game, Kawhi
decided to transfer to Riverside’s Martin
Luther King High School to train alongside
his new coach.
It was here where as a senior he and fellow
NBA player, Tony Snell, would help lead the
King High Wolves to a 30 and 3 record.
Then, in 2009, while using his hand size as
a pivotal role in his success, Kawhi quickly
developed into an outstanding player averaging
22.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and
3.0 blocks per game.
He would also go on to be listed as the number
8 small forward and the number 48 player in
the nation while being named as Mr. Basketball
Despite his wonderful achievements on the
court, it was also around this time that the
16-year old would come across one of the darkest
periods in his life.
You see, on Friday January 18th, 2008, just
24 hours before an upcoming game, his father,
Forty-three-year-old Mark Leonard, was shot
On this tragic day, Mark was closing up his
car wash when several men approached him and
an argument took place.
During the quarrel, one of the suspects pointed
a gun and shot more than 30 shots with ten
hitting the elder Leonard.
Mark Leonard was taken to a hospital, where
he was unfortunately pronounced dead.
Like many killings in the notorious Southern
California city, the murder of Kawhi’s father
To this day there has been no arrest and no
motive for the shooting.
Regardless, what was supposed to be a routine
drive home from practice turned out to be
an unforgettably tragic moment.
After he had received the devastating news
from his sister, Leonard was completely shattered
considering he had spoken to his father just
The next night, the 6-foot-7 junior managed
to score 17 points for the Kings in a 68-60
loss, before letting out all of his emotions,
crying into his mother’s shoulder.
He didn’t want to believe it.
Not only had he lost his biggest fan and role
model — but he lost his best friend whom
he talked on the phone with every single night.
The carwash, once filled with everlasting
happiness and fond childhood memories, was
now filled with emotional scars.
His father, mentor and best friend … was
With his father’s death in mind, Kawhi Leonard
knew he had to push forward.
In the midst of the tragedy, Leonard turned
to basketball as his distraction and mission.
He had every reason to put all his energy
and focus towards the main goal that both
him and Mark strived for.
To make it to the NBA.
With a new motivation to make his father proud,
Leonard put in extended hours at the gym.
At first he would leave his house at 5 a.m.
every morning to work out before his college
Following this he would spend his after school
hours hustling back and forth among three
Then he would run drills on any open court,
including local LA finesses, where he lifted
weights and trained for as long as the lights
Since he was already aware of his natural
abilities as a ferocious rebounder and defender,
he decided to instead improve upon his offensive
game which included refining his shooting
Entering his senior year, after months of
on-going training, Kawhis hard work would
finally pay off as he clawed his way into
becoming a 4-star recruit.
Eventually he began receiving offers from
schools such as UCLA, USC and Michigan.
However, after graduating in 2009, Leonard
decided to accept a scholarship from San Diego
State, thinking he would have a better opportunity
It was here where he led the Aztecs in scoring
and rebounding earning a two-time first team
selection and a reputation as a defender with
a high basketball IQ and relentless hustle.
In his freshman season Leonard averaged 12.7
points and 9.9 rebounds followed by 15.5 points
and 10.6 rebounds as a sophomore, all while
helping drive San Diego State to the Sweet
By this time NBA general managers were buzzing
over the prospect with the freakish wingspan,
high leaping ability and a uniquely quiet
So when he began hearing reports that he was
a first-round lock, Leonard, barely twenty
years old, declared himself eligible for the
2011 NBA Draft.
In the 1st round, with the 15th overall pick,
the Indiana Pacers selected the forward.
However, just five minutes after shaking hands
with NBA commissioner David Stern in a Pacers
hat, Leonard would be traded to the San Antonio
Spurs along with the rights to European players
Erazem Lorbek and Davis Bertans in exchange
for George Hill.
Then on December 10, 2011, following the conclusion
of the NBA lockout, Kawhi Leonard would go
on to sign a multi-year deal with the franchise.
In his first season with the San Antonio Spurs
Leonard swiftly emerged into one of the most
promising and dominant two-way players in
Aside from that, playing alongside veterans
such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
proved to be a seamless fit for Leonard.
That same season he placed fourth in Rookie
of the Year voting and would go on to be named
to the 2012 NBA All-Rookie First Team.
It was clear from the start that this was
an overall good investment for Gregg Popovich
and the Spurs.
After all, Kawhi was always a hustle and defense
player in college.
It made sense especially when considering
the fact that although Leonard stood at 6-foot-7,
his wingspan was listed at 7-foot-3.
Aside from this, his hand measured in at 11.25
inches across from thumb to pinkie and 9.75
inches long, a staggering 52 percent wider
than the average man’s hand.
With a wingspan so long and with hands so
huge that he could cover the ball with one
hand,, Leonard translated the same game he
had in college to the NBA floor.
He put his natural gifts to good use on the
floor, grabbing rebounds, defending the other
team’s best player, and always playing to
Entering the league, he had demonstrated his
maturity on the court as he made key contributions
to the Spurs, helping them reach the NBA Finals
in just his second season, despite the Spurs
suffering a defeat to the Miami Heat in seven
On June 15th, 2014, in a Finals rematch with
the Heat just a year later, the Spurs would
go on to defeat Miami in five games, completing
a dominant comeback from a 2013 heartbreak.
Behind his 17.8 points on 61 percent shooting
and 6.4 rebounds per game, Leonard would go
on to lead the Spurs to their fifth NBA championship.
With stellar defence on Miami’s LeBron James
— it became clear to everyone that it was
here where Leonard shifted his talents from
NBA star to superstar.
At just 22 years old, the former San Diego
State became the third-youngest player to
ever win the NBA Finals MVP award and the
youngest player to win the finals MVP trophy
since Magic Johnson in 1980.
In the end however, what really made Leonard’s
achievement truly special was the fact that
he received it on Father’s Day.
And while Kawhi has since held a reputation
in the NBA as an emotionless assassin, on
this day, the forward had plenty feelings
to go around.
It’s no wonder that after his exceptional
performance, 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
In honor of his father, Kawhi Leonard now
has a tattoo on his right arm, a tombstone
with an “R.I.P.
Dad” inscription with angel’s wings sprouting
from each side.
A suitable way to keep his father’s memory
Overall, as silent and discreet as he is off
the NBA floor, Kawhi Leonard is thought of
as one of the most mysterious and unemotional
players in the whole league.
But make no mistake, his play on the court
is anything but.
It’s true Kawhi Leonard has a quiet and
humble demeanor, keeps a low-key profile and
doesn’t seem interested in the fame or money
that comes along with being a professional
All he wants to do is get better and work
harder, even if he has the spotlight.
After all, he is the kid who locked himself
in his room on his birthdays.
He is the teenager who brought two lamps from
home for his early-morning workouts because
the school wouldn’t turn on the lights.
He is the NBA superstar who still drives a
1997 Chevy Tahoe, the same car he had since
He is the prospect who spent the night of
the 2012 NBA draft at the Spurs practice facility.
And today, he is a professional basketball
player for the Toronto Raptors.
But most importantly, in the end, he … is
In the end these are just some of the behind
the scenes of the NBA that many people don’t
When you put aside the multi-million dollar
contracts, exciting careers and lavish lifestyles
that many NBA stars enjoy, there is a lot
to learn about some of our favorite players.
On a more personal level the NBA is more than
It’s a place where friendships are made, accomplishments
are appreciated and sadly deaths are mourned.
Luckily for us it is also thanks to amazing
people such as Mark Leonard that we get to
appreciate outstanding individuals such as
Years after his dad’s murder, Kawhi still
believes that his father is happy on his decision
to pursue a career in basketball.
With a Finals MVP trophy and a bright NBA
future ahead, there’s no doubt he would be.