Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard reacts to Doc Rivers comparing him to Michael Jordan


Mark Medina


USA TODAY

Published 6: 31 AM EST Nov 4, 2019

LOS ANGELES — The words sounded pleasing to Kawhi Leonard’s ears. Just over a month before Leonard committed to play for him, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers compared Leonard’s body type to Michael Jordan on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

“I came a long way to where I am right now,” Leonard said following the Clippers’ 104-95 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Staples Center. “It is just showing my hard work is paying off.”

Leonard showed that on Sunday against the Jazz when he finished with 30 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. After shooting only 4-of-5 from the field and 0-of-4 from 3-point range through three quarters, Leonard shot 5-of-11 overall and 2-of-4 from deep in the final period. Jordan often had those games.

It might be a stretch, though, to say those Jordan comparisons convinced Leonard to join the Clippers after eventually winning an NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors. He already liked Rivers’ coaching, his players and his front office. It is not a stretch to say, though, that Rivers did not like the price he paid for saying those words. The NBA fined Rivers $50,000, saying that his comments violated league anti-tampering rules.

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“If the media had been listening to what I was saying, we were saying his body type is the most like Michael Jordan,” Rivers said.

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In a “SportsCenter” segment to preview the NBA Finals on May 31, Rivers said that Leonard “is the most like Jordan we’ve seen” because of how Jordan and Leonard excelled in a post-up game, finishing, leaping, defense and 3-point shot, while possessing “big hands” and a similar frame.

“The way (the media) reported it was wrong, so it was your fault,” Rivers contended. “We were talking about body types. There is no body types more like Michael Jordan’s than Kawhi because I said his hands and his length. That took a whole life.”

It sure did. Rivers said that angry Lakers fans asked him if that meant Leonard is better than Kobe Bryant. Most importantly, the NBA viewed Rivers’ analysis as a subtle way to recruit Leonard before he became a free agent on July 1.

Did it actually matter to Leonard?

The Clippers had sent countless staffers to Raptors games to collect as much information on Leonard, who admired the Clippers from afar even before Los Angeles challenged the Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round of the NBA playoffs. So when Leonard’s friends informed him about Rivers’ comments, Leonard’s mind remained on something else.

“Initially, I just ran over it because I was in the playoffs,” Leonard said. “(I was) just locked in.”

Leonard had that mindset partly because he grew up wanting to be like Mike. Leonard also studied former Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson, whom Rivers mused is similar to Leonard because “both have braids” and for their toughness.

“He’s one of the guys that everyone looks up to from a competitive standpoint and how he approached every game,” Leonard said of Jordan. “You try to nitpick what you can take from him and take it into yourself.”

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