Kawhi Leonard has not seen an NBA court the whole 2021-22 season, but he is still one of the best two-way players in the league. After all, he is one of only two players who have two Finals MVPs and two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Aside from being one of the best players in the NBA, Leonard also owns one of the coolest nicknames in sport– the Claw. Why is Kawhi Leonard called the Claw?
Before answering that question, let’s know more about Kawhi Leonard.
Who is Kawhi Leonard?
Kawhi Leonard is a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2011 after two seasons at San Diego State. Leonard immediately made an impact under Gregg Popovich, winning the championship and Finals MVP in 2014.
After playing seven seasons for the Spurs, Leonard controversially asked for a trade and was subsequently sent to Toronto for Demar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. The Raptors won the NBA Finals in 2019 with Leonard as their best player. “The Claw” (or sometimes spelled as “Klaw”) bagged the Finals MVP trophy for the second time in his career.
Despite all his offensive prowess, Leonard initially made his mark as a defensive stopper. His physical attributes– a 7-foot-3 wingspan and humongous 11.25-inch hands– allowed him to disrupt passing lanes and cover ground unlike anyone in his position. Unsurprisingly, he has one of the largest hands in NBA history. He won two Defensive Player of the Year awards (2015 and 2016) and earned three All-NBA first-team selections.
Leonard signed with the Clippers as a free agent in 2019. He, however, missed the entire Conference Finals in 2021, as the Clippers bow down to eventual Western Conference champs Phoenix in six games. Leonard is slated to miss all of this season after undergoing knee surgery for a torn ACL.
While there is no denying that Leonard is great, his career has been marred with injuries from the get-go. He has not come close to playing 82 games in a season since his Spurs days.
What is Kawhi Leonard Known For?
Aside from his outstanding plays on both ends of the floor, the Kawhi Leonard hand size is on a legendary status on its own. His hands are almost as big as Shaq’s despite being six inches shorter.
Leonard is also known for the stoic expression on his face regardless of the circumstances. Even when making big plays, you can hardly see any expression on his face. Leonard’s poker face led the media to label him as “the crown prince of Stoicism.” He also has no social media presence, rarely gives interviews, and has been described as “the most modest, non-confrontational superstar in a league full of attention-seekers.”
According to a Medium article, Kawhi’s demeanor can probably be traced back to a traumatic incident during his teenage years. At the time, his father was shot and killed while working at the car wash he owned in Compton. Despite this, Kawhi returned to the court and played later in the evening, though he reportedly broke down afterward. His father’s assailant was never apprehended.
Also, a trademark of Leonard’s is his almost robotic laugh. It took a life of its own and has become a viral meme, which is honestly very understandable. When the interview shown in the video happened back in the 2018 offseason, the Internet certainly had a field day with it.
Why Is Kawhi Leonard Called the Claw?
Leonard is called the Claw, or the Klaw, mainly because of his effort on the defensive end. It is basically an offshoot of Gary Payton’s “Glove” nickname. The feared Kawhi Leonard hands— all 11.75 inches of them– also have something to do with it.
Look at how those giant mitts allowed Leonard to easily steal the ball from McLemore, like taking candy away from a baby.
What’s Kawhi Leonard’s Career-High?
Kawhi Leonard’s lengthy injury history puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to career numbers. Not only does he have fewer total points, but he also had fewer chances of putting together career games across multiple categories. Regardless, the Kawhi Leonard career high numbers are still pretty impressive.
Regular season career-highs:
- 45 points vs Utah on January 1, 2019
- 16 rebounds twice (last vs. Utah on January 1, 2021)
- 10 assists three times (last vs. San Antonio on January 5, 2021)
- 7 steals vs. Golden State on April 5, 2015
- 6 blocks vs. Denver on December 14, 2014
- 16 field goals made vs Utah on January 1, 2019
- 7 three-pointers made two times (last vs. Chicago on January 10, 2021)
- 9 TOs vs. Toronto on November 11, 2019
Playoff Career Highs:
- 45 points twice (last vs. Dallas on June 4, 2021)
- 17 rebounds vs Milwaukee on May 25, 2019
- 9 assists three times (last vs. Dallas on June 6, 2021)
- 6 steals vs Memphis on April 22, 2017
- 5 blocks vs Memphis on April 22, 2016
- 18 field goals made vs Dallas on June 4, 2021
- 7 three-pointers made vs Memphis on April 22, 2017
- 19 free throws made and attempted vs. Memphis on April 17, 2017
- 7 TOs vs Philadelphia on May 5, 2019
15 Interesting Facts About Kawhi Leonard
In honor of Kawhi Leonard’s No. 15 San Diego State Aztec jersey number that was retired, here are some lesser-known interesting facts about the Claw.
1. Even after signing a $94 million deal in 2017, Leonard was still driving his high school car– a 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe.
2. In a film session breakdown with Kobe Bryant in 2013, the late great recalled that Kawhi never said much but always asked the right questions. Guess that’s always how he’s going to be, the Kawhi-et type!
3. Leonard turned to football after the basketball coach turned him down for a later tryout. He was supposed to attend the tryout but he didn’t have a ride because his mom was out of town.
4. Speaking of football, Kawhi Leonard’s cousin was long-time NFL wide receiver, Stevie Johnson.
5. Kawhi is good friends with rappers Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne.
6. Leonard was the only player in NBA history to win DPOY and was named Finals MVP before becoming an All-Star.
7. It’s time for another Kawhi Leonard hand size story! His massive hands measure 11.75 inches long from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinkie. That is 52% bigger than the average human hand.
8. The player he idolized the most is none other than Michael Jordan. People close to him say he admires Jordan so much he watches four to five hours of MJ’s highlights in one sitting.
9. Kawhi Leonard’s son was born to him in Toronto when he was still playing with the Raptors. That makes Kawhi Leonard II a Canadian citizen by default, even if his parents are not Canadians.
10. Leonard became Finals MVP when he was only 22 years old. He is the third-youngest winner of the Bill Russell trophy behind Magic Johnson and former teammate Tim Duncan.
11. His full name is Kawhi Anthony Leonard.
12. College teams were seriously sleeping on Kawhi. He was only rated a four-star recruit coming out of high school and the 48th-ranked player in the nation.
13. When he was seven years old, his dream to play in the NBA was already set. Leonard once told his pediatrician that he’d make it to the big league and followed up on that guarantee 12 years later.
14. Did you know he talks a lot of trash? Yes, he does! But unlike Gary Payton’s crossing-the-line style, he talks smack using one-liners and weird phrases, His college teammates would often hear him say “Bucket” when he scores on somebody. The weirdest of all is when he mumbles “Board Man Gets Paid.”
15. Leonard wore Jordan shoes in his early years in the league. However, he eventually split up with Nike in 2018. Leonard sued Nike over the use of the Claw logo, but a federal judge sided with the shoe giant.
Wrapping Things Up: Why Is Kawhi Leonard Called the Claw?
When you think of the best two-way players in the history of the game, Kawhi Leonard’s name is undoubtedly on top of the conversation. There is essentially no one but Hakeem Olajuwon that boasts the same resume as he does– two Finals MVPs and two Defensive Player of the Year awards. Interestingly enough, he may also be the only basketball player to achieve both those trophies before becoming an All-Star.
Because of his otherworldly defensive prowess, Leonard was given the nickname “The Claw” (sometimes spelled Klaw). Also, he literally had the biggest pair of hands in the world, not just in basketball. The Kawhi Leonard hand size almost bears a mythological status in the NBA, measuring 11.75 inches from the tip of the pinkie to the tip of the thumb. Among active NBA players, Leonard’s mitts were only second in size to the 7-foot-3 Serbian giant Boban Marjanovic.
Leonard is a superstar in the truest sense of the word, but he is known for not giving a damn about it. He is one of the most stoic personalities in sports and entertainment, a rarity in a world that constantly seeks attention. Fans never saw him chest-beating or yelling at an opponent in celebration. He hilariously called himself a “fun guy” in one of his earliest interviews for the Raptors, which instantly became a meme following a poker-faced expression on his face.
It’s not clear why Leonard became as Kawhi-et as he is, but it could have stemmed from a traumatic incident in his teen years. In 2008, Leonard’s father Mark was shot dead by goons in his car wash business. The gunman was still not apprehended until this day.
His father’s death made Kawhi realize that family is the most essential thing in the world. While he always considers basketball “fun” and loves winning, he said he won’t let a loss separate him from the more important things. That probably explains why he does not show emotions on the basketball court; he is just focused on winning while realizing it’s just a game he loves to play.
Leonard’s basketball career has been paused following an ACL injury he sustained in the 2021 playoffs. He has always battled injuries throughout his career, making his all-time numbers inferior compared to his more durable peers. With that being said, when he’s healthy, few brought immediate impact as he does. Aside from the accolades mentioned above, he was a three-time All-NBA first-team selection and named one of the 75 greatest NBA players ever.
When all is said and done, Leonard is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and probably has his jersey retired somewhere. Leonard became more of an offensive force rather than a defensive menace lately in his career, but let’s not forget the answer to the question, “Why is Kawhi Leonard called the Claw?” Those freakishly long arms and large hands are just there anytime he needs it.
If you’re interested in learning Kawhi’s story, check out this basketball biography book
Cover photo by dirkhansen is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / modified from original