Kawhi Leonard is now officially a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and the other suitors in the free agency race will certainly have their regrets, even if they are unfounded.
Leonard’s free agency campaign reached fever pitch in Toronto, with some fans and news outlets alike tracking his every move as a helicopter was dispatched to track the Raptors’ team plane in an ostensible attempt to decipher where he’d sign.
Some believed this level of round-the-clock coverage amounted to stalking and would deter him from signing with the Raptors. Leonard sat down with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports on Wednesday and explained why that simply wasn’t the case.
“No outside opinion, or statement was made outside had an effect on my decision, at all,” Leonard said. “Like I said, that's why I came to a table with my Uncle Denny and my agent and we discussed, you know, just let's just keep it between all of us. We didn't want no outside opinions or statements to turn our minds a different way. It's just us three and you know, obviously I'm the most important one. And they want to see me happy and whatever choice I made, they was going to go with.”
“That didn't have an effect on it,” Leonard said of the helicopter chase. “From an experience, I didn't know the helicopter was chasing me until I got to the hotel and got a text message from someone. Other than that, nah, I understand that Toronto, the people out there have a great support system.”
It is free agency, after all, and Leonard didn’t sign immediately, sending everyone in the basketball world into hysteria. Some suggested that Leonard delayed other teams from making key acquisitions, as his decision would affect the makeup of their roster.
Leonard rejected this notion entirely.
I didn't lead anyone on, really. I took my time in free agency. as I should, to make sure I made the best decision for myself and my family. I thought some of the media coverage over it, made it feel it that way, with people saying I'm signing with Toronto 99 percent, or I'm going to the Lakers 99 percent. So, you know, whoever's telling those statements, you can't believe rumours. I don't ever want to have that bad karma come back on me, trying to make the Lakers miss out on the players they should've gotten and vice versa with the Raptors.
That's just bad karma for me to try to just hold out longer, just because they won't get players and they won't be competitive, or whatever. I've never thought of that. It was about making a choice for me and my family. I don't know, that's just how I feel about the situation.
I don't ever want to screw nobody ever. I just feel like that's bad karma. If they didn't want to wait for me, they didn't have to. They had a big opportunity to sign me, I was close, but I ended up on the other side.
He has a point. Although it’s nearly unprecedented for the marquee free agent on the market to take their time to make a league-altering decision, Leonard was well within his rights and didn’t forcibly stop the Raptors or Lakers from making moves, even as they hoped to gain his signature.
We can’t recall when an athlete has captured the country’s attention quite like Leonard, and it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get another athlete who warrants the helicopter chase treatment.
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