Kawhi Leonard. Say his name. Repeat it. Learn how to pronounce it.
The kid arrived as a certified star on Sunday night, winning the NBA Finals MVP trophy named for Bill Russell. The MVP wasn’t one of the San Antonio Spurs’ stellar and geriatric Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili. Nope. As they won their fifth NBA title, they were led by Leonard, the 22-year-old heir apparent who just might give Duncan/Parker/Ginobili reason to hang around for another run.
“Right now, it’s just surreal to me,” Leonard, the second-youngest Finals MVP, said after his teammates exploded in seemingly genuine joy when he was named the winner of the Russell award. “I have a great group of guys behind me.”
For the third straight game, he was big for the Spurs, scoring 22 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter, when the game was in hand for the Spurs. Leonard’s Finals arc was an emotional one but his father, who was murdered six years ago in an unsolved shooting in Compton, wasn’t his focus Sunday night.
“It’s a very special meaning for me, knowing that he’s gone and I was able to win a championship on Father’s Day,” Leonard said. “But I mean, I’m just happy just winning the championship. Like I told you all, my dad died six years ago, and I really wasn’t thinking about him that much.”
Leonard, who grew up in Los Angeles and played at San Diego State, will turn 23 in 13 days and nothing is going to be the same for him now that he is certified as “the future of this team,” as Dwyane Wade put it. The subject of a draft-day trade after being the No. 15 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Leonard averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
“He’s a great learner and he’s super competitive, has a drive to be the best that’s really uncommon in our league,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. “He walks the walk. I mean, he’s there early, he’s there late. He wants more. He wants me and the coaches to push him. So I just talked to him about not being in that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man.”
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