Growing up in LA, Kawhi Leonard wasn’t a fan of Purple and Gold. Instead, he rooted for the Philadelphia 76ers, idolizing Allen Iverson. He explained why during a post-game interview following the Clippers win over Minnesota.
Just his gameplay. How hard he played. He played both ends, off the ball, getting steals.Kawhi Leonard, Sports Illustrated
The moment that cemented Kawhi’s fandom for Iverson happened in ’01 when A.I. led the Sixers to 56 wins and a Finals appearance against the Lakers. The Answer even carried his team to a Game 1 victory with 48 points, famously stepping over Ty Lue. However, Kobe and Shaq were too much for the Sixers to handle, as they ended up winning four straight for their second consecutive NBA title.
Still, what Iverson did in that series left all NBA fans in awe — Kawhi included. He averaged 35.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, with a 35-year-old defensive-minded Dikembe Mutombo being the team’s second-leading scorer. Iverson was the only offensive threat on that Sixers roster, and he still put up monster numbers against one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Throughout the entire ’01 playoff run, Iverson averaged 32.9 points in 46.2 MPG, making the Sixers one of the worst teams to make the Finals in recent NBA history, all due to an incredible individual display by the ’01 regular season MVP.
Just seeing that team with the Sixers, bringing them to the finals, and carrying them by himself. That just resonated with me. His will not to give up.Kawhi Leonard, Sports Illustrated
Now we know the origin of Kawhi’s signature braids. That, as well as his approach to the game, were all influenced by one of the NBA’s biggest influencers.
The next step for Leonard is to match Iverson’s willingness to win or at least come close to it. Despite being a 2x NBA champion, that’s something a lot of people question with the Clippers’ superstar. This season is the perfect opportunity, especially considering how the team underperformed in the bubble.
Kawhi’s supporting cast is much better compared to what A.I. had to work with, and 26-games into the 20/21 NBA season, they’re looking like a legitimate contender. Come playoff time; it’ll be on Leonard to get his team over the hump. If he fails, he should at least display an inspiring effort in the process.
That’s something we could always count on with Allen Iverson, and if Kawhi aspires to be like his childhood idol, he should do the same.