As a member of the 2018-’19 Toronto Raptors, Kawhi Leonard mentioned how he was a childhood fan of Allen “The Answer” Iverson. Later that very season, Leonard (a.ka. “The Claw”) nailed one of the most clutch shots in NBA history and eliminated Iverson’s former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, en route to facing the Golden State Warriors and defeating them for the 2019 NBA championship.
Leonard had such a dominant season, leading the Raptors to their first – and ultimately successful – Finals appearance that some considered him to be “the best player on the planet.” Two years removed since that memorable run and now playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Leonard elaborated in a Sports Illustrated interview why he loved The Answer so much.
“Just his gameplay. How hard he played…He played both ends.” Kawhi reminisced more and may have been alluding to his own time in Toronto: “Just seeing that team with the [2000-’01] Sixers, bringing them to the Finals and carrying them by himself. That just resonated to me how hard he played. His will not give up.”
So although everyone else in his family may have been rooting for the Lakers when he was younger, Leonard was very clear about who his childhood basketball icon was.
Now, aside from coiffure, Leonard and Iverson are very different personalities. Leonard is a 6’7″ small forward who is known for his quiet stoicism and massive hands, whereas Iverson was a blindingly fast and generously listed 6’0″ point guard who played much larger than his size.
However, Iverson’s own championship run was not without its own highlights. His 2000-’01 76ers were the only team to win a single game versus the postseason’s Los Angeles Lakers. And on the way to winning Game 1 of that series, The Answer gave us the iconic “step-over” of Leonard’s current head coach Tyronn Lue. So both players have certainly demonstrated the will to win throughout their respective careers.
Iverson similarly showered “The Claw” with high praise in 2017 when asked about who he thought were the top ballers in the game: [Kawhi Leonard]’s the best two-way player in the league, plays the game the right way. Well, if you play with Pop [Gregg Popovich], then you’re going to play the game the right way anyways. But he does everything on the floor to help his team win.”