I like the quiet.
It makes me inclined to like Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard is a rare stripe of superstar who thoroughly eschews the spotlight. He wants to ball and go home, and he doesn’t want to talk to anyone in between. I empathize. I always found the forced socializing at work events to be oppressive. I can’t imagine being made to talk about my job after having performed it live for other people. I mean… didn’t they literally just see it all with their own eyes? Isn’t it on tape? In that context, I find the “Why won’t they leave me alone?” look in Leonard’s eye when the press does manage to corner him wholly understandable and can personally attest that it resonates among his fellow introverts.
The narrative around Leonard is that he’s odd. I suppose he is. But the mockery he sometimes receives goes deeper than his reticence or his rusty laugh. His stubborn silence is quite an act of rebellion in a culture that has everyone clamoring for attention and desperate to rack up likes and retweets. Every time he chooses not to speak, he rebukes that value system. In addition, he’s set a clear boundary that he enforces ruthlessly: his duty to entertain the fans stops when the game is over. A certain kind of person doesn’t like that. I suppose it stings when someone rejects the party you’re trying to throw and chooses a quiet room instead.
Leonard’s fascinatingly persistent silence is about more than avoiding the madding crowd, though. There is a discipline about it that I greatly admire.
When I was around fourteen, the older brother of a schoolmate of mine brushed off a guy from his neighbourhood, then informed our little group, “He talks too much. That means he never listens, and he’s missing what’s happening around him.” It had to do with situational awareness — knowing who was where, what they were doing, and why. That little nugget of wisdom always stuck with me and made me feel less awkward about the times I would sit and just observe. Watching is important.
Leonard watches. I don’t think there’s any denying that. It’s how he makes those stunning defensive plays. He knows what’s going to happen before it does, because he’s observed the patterns, because he watched, because he was quiet. In those moments, he knows his opponents better than they know themselves. Leonard’s defensive plays aren’t poster material the way spectacular dunks are, but they speak to a mastery of the game of basketball in a way staggering athleticism never can. There’s an imposition of will happening that is resolute and unyielding but that flies under the radar because it isn’t rooted in aggression. It takes the focused concentration of a disciplined, patient mind.
Leonard may be “weird” and perhaps he didn’t handle his exit from San Antonio the way some would like, but I think that mind of his is driving it all. The large buffer zone of tranquility he demands probably helps preserve his mental health, which, in turn, preserves his game. Fame is a deeply unnatural condition; it is damaging. Leonard wants no part of it and uses every bit of leverage he has to avoid it. It’s not quite possible — he’s too damned talented, too damned good at what he does, and too many people want to watch him do it. Nevertheless, I support him in that effort to protect himself and stay focused. I’m not the one who needs a quote from him, though (working his beat must be exhausting).
I think some of the attempts to shame Leonard for his legendary aloofness have more to do with covetous “What I would do with that kind of power!” fantasies than the man himself. There’s a sort of envious disbelief underlying much of the criticism of Leonard — people can’t quite believe he’d rather be at home with the blinds closed than holding court at the hottest night spot. Attention is an incredibly valuable currency in the world Leonard navigates. Turning away from it is a powerful statement about what is more important to him.
Chest-pounding arrogance, heated arguments, elaborate psych-up rituals, and other shows of passion are part of professional sports. Confidence isn’t communicated only through competence — there is a deeply emotional component. Leonard’s almost serene self-assurance and unwavering belief in his abilities must be quite unsettling now that I think of it — it’s a bit like something out of The Art of War. It’s a way of being I aspire to, if I’m honest: living in the discipline of silence.