Leonard makes no noise silencing James
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
SAN ANTONIO — If San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard had his way Wednesday at the AT&T Center, the group of news media members on hand for the NBA Finals practice day would have vacated the court and left it for its intended purpose.
Basketball was his only focus coming up in Riverside, Calif., keeping him out of trouble in the early years and helping him through the shooting death of his father five years ago before he headed off to San Diego State. It’s his only focus now as a 21-year-old, even as he gains worldwide acclaim for slowing four-time NBA MVP LeBron James and sees his profile rise in ways that typically consume young players.
As he put it during an interview circuit that included an odd moment with the BBC, a chat with CNN and a sit-down session with USA TODAY Sports to discuss the series the Spurs lead 2-1 and that has averaged 14.3 million viewers a game on television, “It’s whatever, the off-court stuff. It’s not basketball.”
Only the Spurs could have a succession plan like this: After decades of Tim Duncan playing the front man in his uniquely understated way, here comes young Leonard to up the ante on his legendary stoicism while waiting for the torch that coach Gregg Popovich says will be passed.
Leonard is hardly a new face to the Spurs faithful, as he came their way in a trade with the Indiana Pacers on draft night two years ago and quickly became one of Popovich’s prized pupils.
But Popovich said in August 2012 of Leonard, “He’ll be the face of the Spurs I think.” That seemed to change everything about his place in the celebrated franchise — to everyone but Leonard himself.
“I’m just the same guy. … I don’t need to be a celebrity or a superstar,” Leonard told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m just playing basketball. I just want to be a great player. That’s it. That’s all I’m thinking about. If the other stuff comes, it comes, but I’m just fortunate to play in the NBA Finals and just to play basketball, … [For more on Kawhi Leonard makes no noise silencing LeBron James, click here.]