Of the many monikers that Kawhi Leonard has been associated with since being drafted 15th overall in 2011, “Cyborg” has stuck with him the most. It certainly best describes his utter dependability on the court; the cold-blooded precision with which he has shut down otherwise-productive stars combined with his increased efficiency on offense made him the National Basketball Association’s finest two-way star by far before a lingering right quadriceps injury sidelined him in the last 18 months.
Parenthetically, “Cyborg” likewise harks to Leonard’s stoicism off the floor. Because of his importance to the Spurs, he would invariably find himself the subject of interviews. For all his seeming availability and frequency behind the microphone, however, rare was the time when he would come up with a memorable quote. It wasn’t that he wanted to play safe; it was that his personality simply didn’t lend well to ebullience. Quite the opposite; he preferred to let his playing do the talking for him.
Yesterday, however, Leonard showed a more informal side of himself. It was, to be sure, a surprise, never mind the obvious attempt to begin his stint with the Raptors on a positive note. He said all the right things on Media Day, and, in the process of justifying the risk of acquiring him despite all the uncertainty surrounding his physical state, he actually flashed a smile and let out a laugh. That these were elicited by a query on what he would like fans to know about him serves only to underscore how much ground he managed to break as a result. He was already a decorated veteran of seven years, and yet he still had to disclose that “I’m a fun guy.”
All things considered, the Raptors don’t care if Leonard puts his awkward grin to storage anew. What they do want is for him to show all and sundry the skills that made him a Finals Most Valuable Player and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. As head coach Nick Nurse argued, they’re bent on seeing him “serious about winning.” And if he’s as healthy as he says he finally is, they won’t be disappointed.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.