Best Game Ever: Kawhi Leonard gets his first shot at the game

Kawhi Leonard last June hoisting his second NBA Finals MVP trophy, surrounded by a crowd.
Kawhi Leonard hoisted his second NBA Finals MVP trophy last spring, but it might never have happened if his mother had not signed him up for junior league.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Dan Woike asked NBA players to tell us about the best game in their basketball career. This week: Kawhi Leonard.

1999: National Junior Basketball league

Before the board man got paid, before he hoisted a pair NBA Finals MVP trophies and then rocked the NBA by coming home to play for the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard was just an 8-year-old kid getting ready to play his first basketball game in Riverside’s National Junior Basketball league. He’s had epic playoff battles with Giannis Antetokounmpo and led the Spurs past LeBron James and the Miami Heat, but there was something about the start that stood out in Leonard’s mind that made his first game his best ever.

“It was probably my first game playing — that was one of my best games. It was just being able to play five-on-five with referees, with teammates. It was just very exciting. My mom had signed me up for the league, and I was able to play against kids from all around the city. We won the game, and I just remember the feeling of putting on the uniform and preparing for a game, going to those first practices. It was amazing feeling. ... We played well. I played well too. But I don’t remember how many points I scored because you don’t get a stat sheet. They don’t broadcast it. I just remember making my first shot and winning. It was on a full-sized court. We played at a high school, full court. There weren’t threes or anything, just a bunch of guys shooting layups, a lot of turnovers. But it was exciting — an exciting day — to put on a jersey and compete like that against some of the guys you’ve seen at school or across town.”

NBA players tell us about their best game ever.