Kawhi Anthony Leonard (/kəˈwaɪ/, born June 29, 1991) is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played two seasons of college basketball for the San Diego State Aztecs and was named a consensus second-team All-American as a sophomore. Leonard opted to forgo his final two seasons at San Diego State to enter the 2011 NBA draft. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 15th overall pick before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs on draft night.
With the Spurs, Leonard won an NBA championship in 2014, where he was named the Finals Most Valuable Player. After seven seasons with the Spurs, Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 2018. In 2019, he led the Raptors to their first NBA championship in franchise history and won his second Finals MVP award. He subsequently moved to Los Angeles and signed with the Clippers as a free agent in July 2019.
Leonard is a four-time All-Star with two All-NBA First Team selections. Nicknamed the "Claw," or "Klaw," for his ball-hawking skills, he has earned five All-Defensive Team selections and won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2015 and 2016.
High school career
Leonard attended Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, California, before transferring to Martin Luther King High School for his junior year. In his senior year there, he and Tony Snell led the King High Wolves to a 30–3 record. Leonard averaged 22.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 3 blocks per game that year and was named California Mr. Basketball.
Considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, Leonard was listed in the recruiting rankings of 2009 as the No. 8 small forward and the No. 48 player nationwide.
As a freshman at San Diego State University in 2009–10, Leonard averaged 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the Aztecs. He helped the team achieve a 25–9 record and led them to win the Mountain West Conference (MWC) tournament title. The Aztecs thus received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament but would lose in the first round to Tennessee, 62–59, with Leonard recording 12 points and 10 rebounds. He led the MWC in rebounding and was named MWC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-MWC, and the 2010 MWC Tournament MVP.
During his sophomore season, Leonard averaged 15.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest as the Aztecs finished with a 34–3 record and won back-to-back conference tournament championships. Led by Leonard, San Diego State once again made the NCAA tournament. This time the Aztecs advanced to the Sweet 16, but then they lost to eventual national champions, Connecticut. Leonard was named to the Second Team All-America and left San Diego State to enter the 2011 NBA draft.
On February 1, 2020, SDSU retired Leonard’s number 15, making him the first player in program history to receive this honor.
According to Sports Illustrated, NBA scouts were aware in 2011 that Leonard had a strong work ethic and was a "physical marvel, 6'7" with a 7'3" wingspan and 11-inch hands, too strong to screen and too long to elude". Nevertheless, they found him "difficult to pin down". Sporting News has asserted that Leonard was known more for his defense and rebounding than for his offensive capabilities when he first entered the league. He was compared to Metta World Peace and Gerald Wallace, and his outside shooting (or lack thereof) was a concern.
San Antonio Spurs
2011–12: Rookie year
Leonard was selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers but was traded that night to the San Antonio Spurs along with the rights to Erazem Lorbek and Dāvis Bertāns in exchange for George Hill. On December 10, 2011, following the conclusion of the NBA lockout, he signed a multi-year deal with the Spurs.
Leonard and teammate Tiago Splitter were selected to play in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge as members of Team Chuck. Although he suited up for the event, he did not play due to a calf strain. After starter Richard Jefferson was traded to the Golden State Warriors for Stephen Jackson, Leonard was promoted to the starting small forward position while Jackson served as his backup.
At season's end, Leonard placed fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and was named to the 2012 NBA All-Rookie First Team.
—Gregg Popovich, in 2012, on Leonard
In the summer of 2012, Leonard was among several NBA up-and-comers chosen to play for the 2012 USA men's basketball Select Team. They trained with the Olympic team, which included Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul.
2012–13: First Finals appearance
On October 26, 2012, the Spurs exercised the team option on Leonard, re-signing him through the 2013–14 season.
Leonard was selected to play for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge where he was once again drafted to Team Chuck. He recorded 20 points and 7 rebounds as Team Chuck defeated Team Shaq for the second straight year 163–135.
The San Antonio Spurs advanced to the NBA Finals where they faced the Miami Heat. Leonard averaged 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds during the Finals as the Spurs lost the series in seven games.
2013–14: NBA championship and Finals MVP
On April 6, 2014, Leonard scored a season-high 26 points in the Spurs' 112–92 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He finished the season averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals while shooting 52.2% from the field. Leonard helped the Spurs to a 62–20 record – the number one seed in the NBA – and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team for the first time.
The Spurs and the Miami Heat met once again in the NBA Finals. On June 10, 2014, in Game 3 of the series, Leonard scored a then career-high 29 points in a 111–92 victory. San Antonio went on to win the series 4–1. Leonard averaged 17.8 points on 61% shooting and was named NBA Finals MVP. He was the third-youngest winner of the award (22 years and 351 days), behind only Magic Johnson—who won in both 1980 (20 years and 278 days) and 1982 (22 years and 298 days). Leonard was also only the sixth player, and the first since Chauncey Billups in 2004, to win Finals MVP in a season in which they were not an All-Star.
2014–15: Defensive Player of the Year
After missing the final six preseason games and the season opener against the Dallas Mavericks due to an infection in his right eye caused by conjunctivitis, Leonard made his season debut against the Phoenix Suns on October 31 despite still suffering from blurry vision. He continued to play through the blurred vision and on November 10, 2014, he scored a season-high 26 points in the Spurs' 89–85 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Following a three-game stint on the sidelines between December 17 and 20, Leonard had an injection in his injured right hand on December 22 and was ruled out indefinitely. He returned to action on January 16, 2015, after missing 15 games, recording 20 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals to lead the Spurs to a 110–96 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
On April 5, Leonard recorded 26 points and a career-high 7 steals in a 107–92 win over the Golden State Warriors. On April 23, Leonard was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to win both NBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Finals MVP. The next day, he scored a playoff career-high 32 points in a Game 3 first-round playoff series victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs went on to lose the series in seven games.
2015–16: First All-Star selection
On July 16, 2015, Leonard re-signed with the Spurs to a five-year, $90 million contract. On October 28, he scored a then career-high 32 points in a 112–106 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. On December 3, he scored 27 points and made a career-high seven three-pointers in a 103–83 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. On January 21, 2016, he was named as a starter to the Western Conference team for the 2016 All-Star Game, earning his first All-Star selection and became the sixth Spurs player in franchise history to be selected as an All-Star starter, joining George Gervin, Larry Kenon, Alvin Robertson, David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
On March 23, 2016, Leonard had another 32-point outing in a 112–88 win over the Miami Heat, helping the Spurs extend their franchise-record home winning streak to 45 games (dating to 2014–15 season). On April 2, he set a new career-high with 33 points in a 102–95 win over the Toronto Raptors, helping the Spurs set a franchise record with their 64th victory. The Spurs topped their 63-win season in 2005–06 and extended their NBA-record home winning streak to start the season to 39 games. Leonard helped the Spurs finish second in the Western Conference with a 67–15 record, and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors for a second straight year, becoming the first non-center to win the honor in back-to-back seasons since Dennis Rodman in 1989–90 and 1990–91. Additionally, he finished runner-up in the MVP voting behind Stephen Curry.
In Game 3 of the first-round playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, Leonard helped the Spurs go up 3–0 in the series with a 32-point effort, tying his playoff career-high. After sweeping the Grizzlies, the Spurs moved on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. In Game 3 of the series against the Thunder, Leonard helped his team go up 2–1 with 31 points and 11 rebounds. However, the Spurs went on to lose the next three games, bowing out of the playoffs with a 4–2 defeat.
2016–17: Second All-NBA First Team selection
In the Spurs' season opener on October 25, 2016, Leonard recorded a career-high 35 points and five steals in a 129–100 win over the Golden State Warriors. On January 14, 2017, he set a new career high with 38 points in a 108–105 loss to the Phoenix Suns, becoming the first Spur to record three consecutive 30-point games since Tony Parker in 2012. On January 19, he was named a starter for the Western Conference All-Star team in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and had 34 points against the Denver Nuggets for his fifth straight 30-point performance. Two days later, he set a new career high with 41 points in a 118–115 overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming the first San Antonio player to score at least 30 in six straight games since Mike Mitchell in 1986. He subsequently earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors for games played from January 16 through 22.
On February 13, 2017, Leonard made 13 of 23 shots including two three-pointers and finished with 32 points, six rebounds and four steals in a 110–106 win over the Indiana Pacers. It was his fifth straight 30-point game. With their 42nd victory of the season coming against the Pacers, the Spurs extended their streak of consecutive winning seasons to a league-record 20. On March 6, after being named Player of the Week for the fourth time in his career, Leonard scored 39 points to lead the Spurs to a 112–110 win over the Houston Rockets. It was his 91st straight game scoring in double figures, matching San Antonio's longest streak since Tim Duncan did so in 2002–03.
On April 15, 2017, Leonard matched his postseason high with 32 points in a 111–82 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. Two days later, in Game 2, Leonard had a postseason career-high 37 points and added 11 rebounds in a 96–82 win over Memphis to take a 2–0 series lead. In Game 4 of the series in Memphis, Leonard had another postseason personal best with 43 points in a 110–108 overtime loss; the loss tied the series at 2–2. Behind a 29-point effort from Leonard in Game 6, the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference semifinals by beating Memphis 103–96 to take the series 4–2. The Spurs went on to advance to the Western Conference Finals with a 4–2 triumph over the Houston Rockets in the second round, despite playing without Leonard in Game 6 due to an ankle injury.
In the third quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia's foot after attempting a field goal and re-aggravated his existing ankle injury. He exited the game with 26 points and sat out the remainder of the series as the Spurs lost to the Warriors in four games. Leonard finished the season with averages of 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the regular season, and 27.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals for the playoffs. He was subsequently selected to the All-NBA First Team for the second straight year, as well as earning All-Defensive First Team honors for the third consecutive season.
2017–18: Injury-plagued season
Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season with a right quadriceps injury, making his season debut on December 12, 2017, against the Dallas Mavericks. He appeared in nine games between December 12 and January 13. He returned from a three-game absence on January 13 against the Denver Nuggets after straining his left shoulder against the Phoenix Suns on January 5. On January 17, he was ruled out for an indefinite period of time to continue his rehabilitation process from right quadriceps tendinopathy. Leonard was subsequently cleared to play by the Spurs medical staff, but he solicited a second opinion from his own doctors. In March, the Spurs held a players-only meeting in which Leonard's teammates reportedly entreated him to return to the court; the meeting was described as "tense and emotional". Leonard did not play again in 2018.
2018–19: Second NBA championship and Finals MVP
In June 2018, reports surfaced claiming that Leonard had requested a trade from the Spurs and that he did so after months of tension between his camp and the Spurs stemming from a disagreement over his injury rehabilitation program. A month later, on July 18, Leonard and teammate Danny Green were traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Pöltl and a protected 2019 first-round draft pick. It was a risky move for the Raptors and their president, Masai Ujiri, given the concerns over Leonard's health and the possibility of him leaving as a free agent at the end of the season. In his debut for the Raptors in their season opener on October 17, Leonard had 24 points and 12 rebounds in a 116–104 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two days later, he had 31 points and 10 rebounds in a 113–101 win over the Boston Celtics.
Leonard was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played November 26 – December 2. On January 1, he scored a career-high 45 points in a 122–116 win over the Utah Jazz. On January 31 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Leonard's career-high streak of scoring at least 20 points in 22 consecutive games ended when he had 16 points in a 105–92 loss.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Leonard had a playoff career-high 45 points, on 16-of-23 (69.6%) shooting, to lead the Raptors in a 108–95 victory. He became just the second player in Raptors history to eclipse 40 points in a playoff game, joining Vince Carter (50 points, 2001). In the deciding Game 7, Leonard hit a shot from the corner at the buzzer that bounced off the rim four times before falling to give the Raptors a 92–90 victory over the 76ers to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. He finished the game with 41 points on 16-of-39 shooting. This was the first Game 7 buzzer beater in NBA history and caused the normally calm Leonard to let out a victorious scream as he was swarmed by his teammates. Leonard said of the shot afterward:
It was great. That's something I've never experienced before, Game 7, game-winning shot. It was a blessing to be able to get to that point and make that shot and feel that moment. It's something I can look back on in my career.
The Raptors continued their 2019 NBA Playoffs march against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Leonard scored 36 points, including eight in the second overtime, to help the Raptors beat Milwaukee 118–112 to cut the Bucks' series lead to 2–1. In Game 5, he helped the Raptors take a 3–2 lead with 35 points on five 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds and nine assists in a 105–99 win. In Game 6, he had 27 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Raptors into the NBA Finals for the first time with a 100–94 victory. Leonard put an exclamation point on the conference victory with a huge dunk on Giannis Antetokounmpo that was set up by a Kyle Lowry steal.
Leonard led the Raptors into the 2019 Finals on the back of what was being described as an all-time great NBA playoff performance. In Game 2, Leonard had 34 points and 14 rebounds in a 109–104 loss to Golden State. Leonard helped the Raptors take a 3–1 series lead with 36 points and 12 rebounds in a 105–92 Game 4 win on the road in Oakland. In Game 6, he scored 22 points in a 114–110 win to help lift the Raptors to a 4–2 series victory in claiming his second NBA championship. He was subsequently named NBA Finals MVP for the second time, becoming just the third Finals MVP to have won the award with two teams, joining LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is also the first person to win Finals MVP with a team from each conference. Leonard scored 732 points during the 2019 playoffs; this was the third-best scoring total for a single NBA postseason in league history, behind only LeBron James (748, 2018) and Michael Jordan (759, 1992).
Los Angeles Clippers
On July 10, 2019, Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers to a reported three-year, $103 million contract, which included an opt-out clause in 2021.
Leonard debuted for the Clippers on October 22, 2019, where he put up 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in a 112–102 win against the Los Angeles Lakers. On October 24, he recorded 21 points and tied a career-high 9 assists in a 141–122 win over the Golden State Warriors. On December 11, Leonard returned to Toronto for the first since joining the Clippers and was met with a tribute and a standing ovation from the crowd before scoring 23 points and recording six assists in 112–92 win over the Raptors. Two days later, Leonard scored a then season-high 42 points along with 11 rebounds in a 124–117 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was the first time in franchise history that two players eclipsed 40 points, as teammate Paul George scored 46 points. On Christmas Day, the Clippers and Lakers met once again in a much anticipated matchup, in which Leonard put up 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting and 12 rebounds to lead the Clippers to a 111–106 comeback win despite trailing by as much as 15. On January 14, 2020, Leonard scored a season-high 43 points in just 29 minutes in a 128–103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week for games played from January 13 through 19. On January 24, Leonard recorded his first career triple-double with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 122–117 win over the Miami Heat. On February 16, Leonard was named the NBA All-Star Game MVP of the 2020 NBA All-Star Game.
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
|†||Denotes season in which Leonard won an NBA championship|
|*||Led the league|
|2009–10||San Diego State||34||33||31.3||.455||.205||.726||9.9||1.9||1.4||.7||12.7|
|2010–11||San Diego State||36||36||32.6||.444||.291||.759||10.6||2.5||1.4||.7||15.5|
Awards and honors
- 2-time NBA champion: 2014, 2019
- 2-time NBA Finals MVP: 2014, 2019
- 1-time NBA All-Star MVP: 2020
- 4-time NBA All-Star: 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020
- 3-time All-NBA:
- All-NBA First Team: 2016, 2017
- All-NBA Second Team: 2019
- 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year: 2015, 2016
- 5-time All-Defensive Selection:
- NBA All-Defensive First Team: 2015, 2016, 2017
- NBA All-Defensive Second Team: 2014, 2019
- NBA All-Rookie First Team: 2012
- NBA steals leader: 2015
- Consensus second team All-American (2011)
- NABC All-American Third Team (2011)
- 2× First-team All-Mountain West (2010–2011)
- 2× All-Mountain West All-Tournament Team (2010–2011)
- All-Mountain West Defensive Team (2011)
- Mountain West Tournament MVP (2010)
- Mountain West Freshman of the Year (2010)
- High school
- California Mr. Basketball (2009)
- Martin Luther King Hall of Fame (class of 2018)
Leonard is the son of Mark Leonard and Kim Robertson. He is the youngest child of the family and has four sisters. His father was shot and killed on January 18, 2008, at the Compton car wash he owned. Leonard insisted on playing the next evening and broke down emotionally after the game. As of 2019 the murderer had still not been found. Leonard is the cousin of American football wide receiver Stevie Johnson.
Leonard's girlfriend, Kishele Shipley, gave birth to their first child, a daughter, in July 2016. In March 2019, the couple welcomed their second child, a boy.
In 2018 Leonard reportedly signed a multi-year endorsement deal with New Balance, the multinational sports footwear and apparel corporation. He had previously signed with Air Jordan brand, a subsidiary of Nike. In June 2019, Leonard filed a federal lawsuit against Nike. According to the lawsuit, Nike copyrighted Leonard's "Klaw" logo without his consent.
Leonard is known for his quiet and private demeanor. He rarely gives interviews and avoids questions about his private life. Leonard has also said that he does not actively consume news media or use social media.