There are many things we know about Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors‘ new superstar who enters next season with both a ton of expectations for his team and even more unknowns about his future plans.
We know, for instance, that Leonard is incredible at basketball — at full strength he’s at worst a top-five player in the NBA, the rare talent who doubles as his team’s best player on either side of the court.
At just 27 years old, he already has an impressive resume that helps back up the claim, including Finals MVP and two Defensive Player of the Year awards, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to ever hold both honours.
And, of course, there’s video evidence as well:
But as Canada and the Raptors fan base await Leonard’s full-time arrival, it’s what many don’t know about him that has steered debates and left more questions than answers.
Does he speak? What does his voice even sound like? Does Kawhi laugh? Does he cry? Is there a real personality somewhere behind his famously blank stare?
On the one hand, what does it matter so long as he produces on the court? But with Leonard’s addition coming at the price of losing DeMar DeRozan, who grew out of his shell during his nine seasons to become a personable, vocal public presence in our sports landscape, those questions are relevant for a player expected to be the face of the franchise — for one season, at least.
Opponents call him a “robot” on the court, and it’s become a defining trait of Leonard’s approach to the game.
But as it turns out, Leonard does have a personality — and a likeable one at that — equipped with a genuine sense of humour (or, at the very least, great comedic timing). Some fans may be aware of the popular television commercials in San Antonio for Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B. If you’re not, well, you’re in for a treat.
Over the past few seasons, Leonard and his former Spurs teammates filmed several spots for the chain and it features hands-down the best performances of this kind of any NBA players — or pro athletes for that matter.
Despite his known reluctance for the limelight, Leonard is front and centre in the commercials, which play strongly to his All-NBA deadpan abilities, his well-known gargantuan hand size (the reason he’s nicknamed the Klaw), and his status as ‘the quiet one’ among the former Spurs core.
Here’s a collection of some of Leonard’s standout acting work, which serves as definitive proof that he in fact has a personality:
The deadpan stare is a calling card in Leonard’s comedic repertoire, and, man, he nails it here.
“It’s a snowball,” Leonard says, pleased as a punch at his origami skills.
“You always had a way with words,” Patty Mills sarcastically notes after Leonard’s stellar “humoose” pun. Bonus points for his ultra-classy reading of: “the nose has quite the garlic top note.”
“That’s all you’ve got!?” It’s cool to see Leonard open himself to being the butt of the joke and playing to his public persona.
Given how things went down in San Antonio last season, this one might hit a little too close to home for Spurs fans.
These are but a small sampling of a surprisingly large volume of work. Here’s a compilation of more:
You’ll notice that Ginobili and Mills generally steal the show, but Leonard reliably delivers his punchlines and seems generally game to have fun even when the joke is on him. And, sure, these spots demonstrate his willingness to be coached (kudos to the directors for their role in making Leonard shine), but there’s also clearly a personality beneath the otherwise closed-off veneer we’ve been more accustomed to.
Here’s hoping we get to see that side of Leonard in Toronto.