Quiet Kawhi Leonard speaks loudly with backpack initiative for Clippers fans

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard hands out backpacks at 107th Street Elementary School in Watts. Leonard has donated a million backpacks to three Southern California school districts.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

You shouldn’t mistake Kawhi Leonard’s silence for indifference. You shouldn’t confuse his quiet for not caring. Words are one thing; actions are another.

When Leonard says, “The youth is the future, and good education, they need it,” like he did Wednesday night in Phoenix, he’s not just regurgitating a cliché. It’s a sincere belief.

After signing with the Clippers, the team’s community relations team brought a number of service ideas to Leonard, with the team’s superstar immediately zeroing in on efforts in public schools, in Moreno Valley, where he grew up, and in Los Angeles.

That initiative began before the season when Leonard worked with the Clippers and their partners to donate 1 million backpacks. And Friday, when the Clippers host the Denver Nuggets, that number will grow by almost 20,000.

Fans attending the game at Staples Center will each receive a backpack, but the idea is bigger than that. Inside each bag will be a note from Leonard offering instructions. The gist? Take this bag and use it as an agent of change for a cause you’re passionate about — whether it’s education, homelessness, hunger, whatever.

The Clippers are calling the program “#Kawhiit.”


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“Show the world how you #Kawhiit by using this backpack to have someone’s back. Let your actions do the talking,” the note reads. “Fill it with food to give to someone who’s hungry, a blanket for someone who’s cold, books for a child who has none. Or do your own thing. I get that.

“Be great.”

The program is ambitious for Leonard and the Clippers, an idea based on the fact that one person can only do so much. But a group of people? That could be a movement.

“It’s not just backpacks,” Leonard said. “The backpack is just a start.”

Along with the team, Leonard has worked with schools from around the region to donate everything from basic school supplies to much-needed tech, such as tablets and computers. Friday, Leonard will meet with teachers from Moreno Valley Palm Middle School, where he attended, to make another donation.

On the court, Leonard is having a career season, establishing new career highs in scoring (27.1 points), rebounds (7.7) and assists (5.2). The Clippers are in the mix for the second-best record in the West and are viewed as serious title contenders.

But while the Clippers will have to click for everything basketball-related to materialize, Leonard’s passion for improved education has already led to results — and the hope is that it’ll inspire Clippers fans to find ways they can make a difference too.

Up next for Clippers: vs. Denver Nuggets

When: 7:30 p.m., Friday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket, ESPN; Radio: 570

Update: The Clippers (39-19) can pull into a tie with the Nuggets (40-18) for second place in the Western Conference with a victory. Both teams, which have won two in a row, come into the game with all starters and reserves reserves available to play.


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