Wob: Kawhi Leonard Chooses the Clippers and Embraces the Unknown

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard

  • Kawhi Leonard chose to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers early Saturday morning, eschewing the chance to play for the Lakers alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
  • The ripple effects are many, but as Rob Perez writes, Kawhi's embracing of the unknown has given us a rare gift: a truly wide-open NBA title race.

The date was June 1, 1998. It was one of the most-anticipated WCW Monday Night Nitros of all-time. For months leading up to it, wrestling fans and millions of viewers worldwide had observed Sting — the notoriously cryptic, introverted, yet supremely-talented superstar — stalk his opponents from the rafters of arenas and wreak havoc on the established order. While operating simultaneously as wrestling’s version of both The Dark Knight and the joker — the villain everyone deserved but not the one they needed — he was actively being recruited by the two main gangs on WCW’s center stage: the NWO Black & White, and their separatist rebellion, the NWO Wolfpack.

Alas, during the main event, Sting descended from the roof for the final time as a rogue outlaw.

After setting the Black & White up with false hope, he blindsided them with his decision to join the Wolfpack and the wrestling world was never the same again.

Sting had always performed as a recluse, keeping his motivations, strategies, and business private from the world. While the likes of Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and The Giant dominated with flamboyance — it was a spectacle to watch them operate always looking over their shoulder in case the elusive neutralizer ever decided to make his presence known.

It’s this enigma that drove the popularity of Sting’s character. He could be sitting in a chair watching paint dry and it would command the attention of thousands of people in an arena no matter what was happening in the ring. Anything he said or did would end up on a t-shirt, in a promo cut for commercials, or be talked about among the masses the next day.

Sounds awfully familiar to someone we know, doesn’t it?

Kawhi Leonard shows just one bit of emotion, and it becomes one of the most viral moments we’ve ever seen. He describes himself in two words with wretched honesty, and it ends up on a t-shirt and becomes the storefront slogan of New Balance’s entire business. He’s caught on candid camera by a teammate inquiring his mood, and his response instantly reforms “what’s up?” as the standard greeting among friends.

While the evolution of technology and social media has certainly fueled this marketing revolutionary, Kawhi’s apathy for recognition has proven to be the quintessential path to attraction. Curiosity is a damning passion of the human mind. Humans are flawed in the way we want what we can’t have, thus, we are oftentimes willingly accept fiction as fact and dig deeper into warming confines of the echo chamber to quench the thirst of the unknown.

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Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard

In the case of Kawhi, the “unknown” stretches to unprecedented levels. The time it took him to make his decision to join the Los Angeles Clippers was excruciating. It only took 7 days, but minutes before the confirmation felt like hours.

Not knowing what he truly wanted from this experience or his upcoming endeavor is still puzzling even after the dust has settled. What ultimately convinced him to leave behind an entire country of support to join a team that he will share every aspect of basketball with two other stars, on and off the court, will forever be a mystery.

Despite adding two of the league’s top 10 players to a team that made the playoffs last year and being booked by casinos as the favorites to win the 2020 championship, Leonard’s new team remains an unknown.

If the end of the dynasty Golden State Warriors taught us anything, it’s that nobody is invincible from the wrath of Father Time; that the clouds of an empire can’t reign unless they fall. Even the mythological immortals had their spots of vulnerability, and now trusting the health of three superstars with recent injury histories will truly test the franchise’s karmic standing with the basketball gods; if their seven-year sacrifice of draft control was worthy of their blessing.

Let’s give the Clippers the benefit of the doubt and assume they make it through the 2019-20 campaign unscathed, we are likely witnessing the most powerful weapon to bless the sacred 92 feet of hardwood.

How the roster fills in around Kawhi and Paul George is not only vital to supporting their regular-season durability, but a necessity for the grueling, foxhole trench warfare of the playoffs.

A rotation of these two stars plus Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, Mo Harkless, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet is irrefutably colossal on paper, but look at how their STAPLES Center corridor rivals are just three months removed from learning this very lesson the hard way — what happens when you surround an infinity stone with an incompatible gauntlet?

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard

It is these unknowns that make it all so fascinating. A league that battles the perception of parity, parody, and everything in between has proven to be anything but — as the best teams always win in the NBA, but the path from which they triumph is different every single time. Now, the championship race is more open than it has ever been.

Adding Kawhi’s talent to this roster is an undeniable embarrassment of riches, but it is his mystique that truly makes this team one of the game’s all-time appeals. A city built on red carpets, around the aesthetics of bravado, and engulfed by the overwhelming bright lights of the entertainment’s elite is not going to cater to the preferences of one man.

Leonard undoubtedly knows what he has signed up for moving to Los Angeles, whether with the Clippers or Lakers doesn’t matter in comparison to Toronto, and it’s the opposite of seemingly everything he represents.

Yet, he did it anyway.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

But that is where you are wrong, Vader; for this move has fulfilled the prophecy of Kawhi’s legacy as the one true balance in the NBA’s force. First, he ended the reign of the Miami Heat Big 3, then the dynasty Golden State Warriors, and now the Lakers’ super team before it even started. He is the real-life Last Jedi, denying the emperor as he showcases the firepower of his fully armed and operational battle station.

How this plays out is almost more intriguing than the games themselves. Can the opposites of The Klaw and the Big City can not only attract — but thrive together? He could have returned to Toronto and continued his solo act as a nation’s sports liberator. It’s what everyone wanted Sting to be that fateful night in 1998, but he too chose conclusively to sacrifice further individual glory for what he deemed as a greater good.

What makes this historic signing so unique is that Kawhi Leonard, for the first time in his career, has finally shown his true colors — not the swagger of the Black & White, not the heroic guile of the Red & Black, but a curiosity to explore the unknown.