Kawhi: Do­ing work mat­ters more than a state­ment

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Mark Me­d­ina

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The sen­ti­ment only re­in­forced that Clip­pers for­ward Kawhi Leonard cares more about ac­tions than any words. Leonard, a Black NBA su­per­star who has ex­pe­ri­enced racism and made vary­ing ef­forts to help his com­mu­nity, hardly seemed con­sumed with what he might put on the back of his jersey to high­light racial in­equal­ity. When the Clip­pers re­sume their NBA sea­son against the Lak­ers on July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Com­plex, Leonard wants to spark change in a dif­fer­ent way. “I’m still go­ing to con­tinue to help and ed­u­cate peo­ple as well as my team­mates,” Leonard said Mon­day on a video con­fer­ence call with re­porters. “It doesn’t mat­ter if we have a state­ment on the back of our jersey. It’s about do­ing the work.” Leonard has done the work in a va­ri­ety of ways. In the com­mu­nity, Leonard part­nered with the Clip­pers foun­da­tion and non-profit Ba­by2Baby to give a mil­lion back­packs to all stu­dents in his home­town (Moreno Valley, Cal­i­for­nia) as well as other LA-based school dis­tricts (In­gle­wood Uni­fied, Los Angeles Uni­fied). There have been other ef­forts he has not pub­li­cized even amid na­tion­wide protests about sys­temic racism af­ter a white police of­fi­cer (Derek Chau­vin) killed an un­armed black man (Ge­orge Floyd) on Me­mo­rial Day. That prompted Clip­pers guard Lou Williams to de­lib­er­ate on whether he would play to con­cen­trate on so­cial jus­tice ef­forts, but he re­cently re­vealed the team deter­mined that all will ei­ther sit or re­sume the sea­son. “We’re Black, so we’ve been deal­ing with this sit­u­a­tion,” Leonard said of him and his Clip­pers team­mates. “We’ve been giv­ing back to our com­mu­ni­ties. It’s just broad­cast­ing now since ev­ery­body has been in quar­an­tine. So it’s a big fo­cal point on that when you’re at home watch­ing the news. But I’m just go­ing to con­tinue to do what I’ve been do­ing, giv­ing back to my com­mu­nity, ed­u­cat­ing my com­mu­nity, and just keep go­ing from there.” On the court, Leonard has proved to be one of the NBA’s best play­ers af­ter help­ing the Rap­tors win last year’s NBA ti­tle dur­ing his lone sea­son there. Be­fore the NBA halted op­er­a­tions on March 11, the Clip­pers (44-20) trailed the Lak­ers (49-14) by 5 1⁄2 games for the Western Con­fer­ence’s best record, partly be­cause of Leonard’s ef­forts. He av­er­aged 26.9 points on 46.8% shoot­ing along with 7.3 re­bounds and 5.0 as­sists. He com­ple­mented Paul Ge­orge’s de­fense and play-mak­ing. And even if he missed a com­bined 14 games be­cause of various in­juries sur­round­ing his left knee (13) and lower back (one), the ab­sence helped the Clip­pers in two ways. De­spite their oc­ca­sional in­con­sis­tency with play and ef­fort, the Clip­pers leaned on their depth to fig­ure out vary­ing ros­ter com­bi­na­tions. It also en­abled Leonard to feel healthy for when the games re­ally count. That mo­ment is here. “I feel good,” Leonard said. “I was able to work out, get strong and pre­pare for this mo­ment now that we’re in.” Leonard prac­ticed for the first time on Mon­day af­ter the Clip­pers ex­cused him to at­tend to a fam­ily mat­ter when they flew to Or­lando on July 8. Leonard ar­rived this week­end and went through quar­an­tine pro­to­col. Though Clip­pers guard Landry Shamet tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, they oth­er­wise have a fully healthy ros­ter. Ge­orge added his sur­gi­cally re­paired shoul­ders feel 100% af­ter he missed the first 11 games of the sea­son. A healthy Clip­pers team has gone 10-1 this sea­son. “You ob­vi­ously need your stars to win. I don’t think it’s go­ing to be a team that wins star­less. Hav­ing said that, you need a ton of role play­ers,” Clip­pers coach Doc Rivers said. “You need to be able to sus­tain in­juries. When you can, you still have a chance to win, and that will help our team. It also gives us an op­por­tu­nity to play dif­fer­ent line­ups.”

KIRBY LEE/USA TODAY SPORTS

Kawhi Leonard av­er­aged 26.9 points on 46.8% shoot­ing be­fore play paused on Mach 11.

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