In closing the seconds of the 2019 NBA Finals Game 6, Superstar Kawhi Leonard sinks 2 free throws putting the Toronto Raptors up 114 – 110 over the Two-time defending Champion Golden State Warriors. Time runs out. Shredded tattooed 6’ 7” Kawhi raises his arms. He bursts into the brightest smile.
Kawhi and his Raptors defeated the Warriors, ending their quest for the historic three-peat. So the “cyborg” reveals his human side. Actually, the “cyborg” moniker is revered acknowledgment for the Finals MVP’s calm methodic composure when “it’s on”.
Granted the Warriors were decimated by injuries. Superstar Kevin Durant (KD) went down with torn Achilles in Game 5. In the second quarter of Game 6, perhaps the Game’s greatest pure shooter Klay Thompson went down with a torn ACL. He didn’t return to the game. Yet, that doesn’t diminish the Raptors’ accomplishment. Part of winning an NBA Championship is staying as healthy as possible. Part of winning is being able to replace the fallen.
Kawhi, too, played hurt throughout most of the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals with a nondescript leg injury. Yet, Kawhi didn’t complain. He continued to ‘grind it out’. The Dude just balled out.
In some sense, the Warriors “leveraged the farm” when they gave up players 2 years ago to acquire Kevin Durant, with whom they won 2 consecutive NBA Championships. Up to that time when KD went down with severe calf injury in a previous playoff series with the Houston Rocket, Kevin was arguably the Best Player on Planet Earth.
I think Kawhi is the Best Player on Planet Earth. Sure, KD is out, because of the Achilles. I hope that KD recaptures his greatness as he rehabilitates. LeBron James, the arguable GOAT of his era, didn’t make the playoffs with the Lakers. So there’s that.
Do the math. Kawhi averaged 30.5 points in the entire NBA Playoffs. He averaged 28.5 points in the NBA Finals. He scored 22 points in the closeout Game 6. Not only is Kawhi the Best Player on Planet Earth, but he’s also Planet Earth’s Most Chill. I love Kawhi’s style.
In 2018 Kawhi asked to be traded from the San Antonio Spurs, playing only 6 games in the 2017 – 2018 season, because of his prolonged knee injury. Indicating that he felt sorely disrespected by his Teammates and even by the great Coach Greg Popovich, Raptors President of Operations Masai Ujiri took a calculated risk in signing Kawhi to a one year contract. He would be a free agent on July 1, 2019.
Kawhi was already an elite defender. As Finals MVP in 2015, he single-handedly shut down LeBron James as the Spurs beat the Miami Heat. Surprise. Kawhi emerged in 2019 as the prolific scorer. He can defend anyone. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Kawhi held NBA regular season MVP Giannis Otentokounmpo to less than 20 points. He has a sweet perimeter shot from 3-point range and in the paint. He can take it strong to the basket and dunk on over any defender.
Future Hall of Fame Coach Doc Rivers said that Kawhi’s game is most like Michael Jordan, the acknowledged GOAT.
LeBron can occur as the Alpha male. KD can occur as misunderstood, “I’m Kevin Durant.” Kawhi is Zen confident. He told ESPN’s Doris Burke after being named MVP and winning a Championship that he was grateful for his teammates. “That’s why I worked so hard this summer… To win a Championship.”
Doris then asked Kawhi about his possible free agency. Kawhi smiled again, “Right now I’m just going to celebrate this with my team. I’ll think about that later…” Amen, Kawhi. A lot of athletes talk about being in the moment. Kawhi lives in the moment. All the time.
Most of all, Kawhi is comfortable in defining his style. He’s comfortable being himself. Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Easy to say. Harder to do.
At 57 years old, I’m finally comfortable being me. Or at least getting there. That’s wasn’t always the case. For years I was the frightened 8-year-old terrified hearing his parent fight unfairly. Although not his fault, Dad scared me. I got that I would never be enough, ever.
Fortunately, time passed. I met Sensei Dan. I did transformational training with Jerome and Richard. Becoming the man I wanted to be was something possible. I got: Fuck perfection. I began to appreciate and accept my strengths and weaknesses. I got from Cheryl the Japanese aesthetic Wabi-sabi: There is beauty in the embrace of our imperfection. I got from Sensei that it’s not about getting anywhere. “Just train.” Grind it out. Continue to work on my greater than version. “Make it work.” Make me work.
At one point I enrolled in Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills. The experience was invaluable. It also occurred paradoxically. As I listened to award-winning speakers, it occurred to me that they were pretending to be someone else. They were acting. They were not being authentic.
My dear friend John, the professional business coach and speaker, told me when I speak, “Just be yourself. But just be loud.” I got it. He said trust what comes out of me, what I say will be true. What I say will be me.
Yeah, being older I trust what I say will be true to me. And if I’m going to say something, then it’s got to be something meaningful to me. I really don’t give a fuck what others think about me as long as I act or speak from a good heart. We all want to make a difference whether profound or small. I got from Sensei Dan that we make a difference by giving what we have gotten away to others.
I experienced satisfaction when I closed an Aikido class I taught on a Thursday night. There were 15 students bowing back to me. I think I got my job done.
I was in a video conference with Lieutenant Jon. We’ve worked together for the last 2 years on a complex Government Satellite Program. Jon graciously gave me permission to guide him in this complicated path. As Jon answered the technical inquiry, I smiled. “Damn, he’s really good!”
Later over the phone, I told Jon, “I’m so proud of you.” He had evolved and grown a long way. He was sincerely touched. He thanked me for what I had done. Unlike Sensei Dan, I didn’t say, “You did it. I didn’t do anything.” I humbly said, “Thank you.” I was being me. That’s just my style.
Yeah, I do hope to be as chill as Kawhi, someday. It’s entirely possible. In the meantime, I’ll just chill – not taking myself too seriously. I’ll chill helping others become their greater than version. Because it’s something meaningful to me.
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