OAKLAND, California — Kawhi Leonard’s first season with the Toronto Raptors started with his now-infamous laugh.
He’s just a competitor
It ended with him getting the last laugh.
The best player on the league’s newly crowned best team is an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the second time. Toronto finally sits atop the basketball universe, with Leonard averaging 28.5 points in a six-game finals victory over the Golden State Warriors to lead the Raptors to their first championship.
He arguably ended any debate about who the best two-way player in the sport is at this moment.
“This is what I play basketball for,” Leonard said. “This is what I work out for.”
The King of the North, as they’ve been calling Leonard in Toronto, was King of the Playoffs.
He’s the third player to win Finals MVP with two franchises, joining only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James.
“I think he’s the best two-way basketball player in the NBA,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.
“He just goes. You know, I’ve seen some stuff from him this year that you just say, ‘Wow.’
You do. You say, ‘Wow.’ You appreciate the work that he’s put in. He works extremely hard at his game and works extremely hard on his body. And he loves this basketball thing. Loves it.”
After missing most of last season with a leg injury, after having his commitment questioned, after getting traded to Toronto, Leonard returned to basketball’s mountaintop. He thrust both arms high into the air when it was over, letting out a scream of joy.
He even allowed himself a tiny smile when he hoisted the MVP trophy.
“He’s just a competitor,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “We respect that, for sure. He’s shown that again this entire playoff run.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo will probably win the NBA’s MVP award in a couple of weeks. James Harden and Paul George are the other finalists. And while all three of those players had marvelous regular seasons, the postseason was Leonard’s personal showcase.