"Yeah, it's gonna be fun. Everybody's anticipating the game. Things like that only get me better for the long-run. It's gonna be a good game." That was Kawhi's answer after the game last night about the next matchup the Raptors face. At 8 PM, Kawhi will have his first game in AT&T Center after the drama and following trade.
This was one of the games everyone circled as soon as the schedule came out. Some time has passed, a lot has happened since so you may have forgotten - this was one of the most bizarre stories in the NBA for a long time. The Spurs, known for stability and good management, found themselves in uncharted waters. Pop told everyone Kawhi was cleared to play, implied he had no idea what is going on and redirected all questions to "Kawhi's camp.". The infamous uncle Dennis. It was clear Pop was angry and confused.
While he claimed he is still not feeling ready to play, we learned Kawhi wanted a bigger shoe deal and more star treatment in a franchise that had Tim Duncan for 20 years. He felt San Antonio is not big enough to have a large shoe deal (his jovial and outgoing character was not enough it seems). Rumors about him wanting to play in LA started to appear and then while rehabbing this injury we didn't know much about, he showed up at a Dodgers game. Magic Johnson, the Lakers President of Basketball Operations, is a part owner of the Dodgers. Kawhi would sit out there rest of the season and was not on the bench during playoffs, supposedly rehabbing his injury.
Both sides have valid points in the discussion of who is to blame.
Kawhi the way he was treated, medically and personally, by the team. A team meeting where the players accused him of putting himself above the team (a deadly sin in San Antonio) and bailing out on them during the playoffs followed by a Tony Parker quote saying "Same kind of injury, but mine was 100 times worse, but the same kind of injury. You just stay positive." was the last straw and not easy to get over.
The Spurs were getting no signals, then mixed signals, all the off-court flirting with the Lakers and avoiding an honest conversation.
What to expect in San Antonio tomorrow evening? It won't be easy for Kawhi. Fans are often irrational and quick to judge when they feel betrayed. Mind you, the facts are unknown, but that won't stop an arena full of people to make it very unpleasant on Kawhi and seems he is aware of that.
While I find such love and loyalty to a piece of clothing a bit too much, I can understand how people get there. The problem is when things go too far, and according to Kawhi's official fan page (a post by his sister), things have gone too far.
I'm not saying most fans are like this or condone such behavior. These are disturbed people, and it's a matter for the authorities. This does provide an opportunity to take a step back and realize this is all just a game. You may be a huge fan, feel betrayed and angry at a player. You may judge certain words or actions a player makes, that is all understandable.
Just keep in mind we are talking about young men who most often come from a challenging socio-economic background, work extremely hard and have to make a lot of decisions through the AAU and college labyrinths to beat all odds and sign a contract that gets their loved ones some stability in the future. Then they HAVE TO spend seven years working for a team in a city they did not choose, often far away from everyone they know and have about 15,000 people judge them at least 82 times in a season. If they are not in an arena, then there is a 24-hour news cycle that analyzes everything they do. All this between the ages of 19 and 26.
This is where you come at me with a "come on, they are not working in coal mines," and I agree. They make a lot of money playing a game, fly in charter planes and having scientist analyze their sleep patterns. Their overall objective reality is amazing; there are much worse problems to have. But almost none of us think that way about life. Let me put it this way: 2.3 billion people in the world don't have access to a toilet. Now that you know this fact, will you think "man, I'm so lucky" every time you flush?
Kawhi is a perrenial MVP candidate, he finally had some power to wield, and he tried to make the best of it. If you were a top 5 anything in the world, would you have your boss and co-workers criticize you because of sick leave and be cool with it? In the meantime, all the competitors are sending you texts offering you a lot of money and star treatment.
I'm not saying he did everything right, but let's keep things in perspective. Are you sure you would do better in his shoes?