When Kawhi Leonard entered the NBA, one had to wonder whether or not he had speaking capabilities. He never seemed to talk out of place, show any emotion, or, heaven forbid, argue with an official. This all seems to be changing, as during the first two games of the 2018-2019 NBA season we’re witnessing a different Kawhi.
Entering the NBA in 2011 and playing for the San Antonio Spurs franchise, where everything had to go through Coach Gregg Popovich and the big trio of Duncan/Parker/Ginobili, even the loudest of them all had to stay relatively quiet when operating in that environment. Combine that with Kawhi’s silent nature, and not the slightest sound would emanate from his vicinity. As the years went by, he remained committed to foregoing any kind of human emotion – we couldn’t tell by looking at Kawhi whether he had won or lost the game, if he had just dunked or gotten dunked on.
Watched the 4th qtr of the Raptors win over Boston. Saw more emotion out of Kawhi Leonard than in the previous five years.
— Jonathan Zaslow (@ZaslowShow) October 20, 2018
During Kawhi’s tenure in San Antonio, we’d be hard-pressed to find any clip of him celebrating after a shot made, or after a key defensive play, or after a teammate had made an incredible and vital shot in closing time. We’d witness the same Kawhi.
Enter, Toronto. We’re not going to overreact to his first few games, but in a way, we are seeing a different Kawhi. During the Raptors 113-101 victory over the Celtics, Kawhi pounded his chest (which has to be an all-time first), he threw his arms up in the air celebrating Lowry’s late field goal, and threw his arms up in the air again arguing a call by the refs.
So what is it? Why this sudden change in attitude? He’s clearly invested in what’s happening with the Raptors and has his sights on something big. The entire team knows that they’ll likely have to go through the Celtics in order to make the first Finals appearance in franchise history, and understood the magnitude of making a statement early on.
It’s funny to look back and remember the initial questions that came out once the Raptors acquired Kawhi. This was a player that had ghosted the entire world since January, so questions like “Does he care?” or “Is he even going to show up?” were serious ones. Now, that seems like a way of the past. Kawhi is here, and passionate about being here, which would have delighted any Raptors fan to have heard three months ago.
Kawhi is in on the chase. Regardless of whether or not he stays or goes, this year he’s going all out – but it appears that he’s making emotional investments towards the players, staff, organization, and the city of Toronto.