Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is a top-five player in the NBA when healthy and has proven his greatness among The Association’s all-time greats, as he was named to the NBA 75th anniversary team last season. Another member of the 75th Anniversary squad is a huge fan of Leonard’s game. That member is none other than ABA and NBA legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving.
Erving hasn’t been shy in expressing his admiration for Leonard.
“Kawhi is my favorite NBA player,” Erving said. “Absolutely.”
“I’ll tell you what, it’s kind of like a mutual admiration,” Erving said. “I really admire him, I haven’t sat down or had dinner with him or lunch or anything like that. We connected All-Star weekend during the Top 75 [celebration]. It’s always just a cordiality there because he’s a favorite guy that I like to watch in the NBA. So I’ve gone on record and saying that I don’t know if he’s heard about it or not.”
Anyone can understand why Leonard might be a former player’s current favorite. During his career, Kawhi has been one of, if not the top two-way player at certain points and seemingly a model citizen off the court. He hasn’t been involved in any off-the-court scandal. Aside from the Clippers signing “scandal” surrounding his acquisition in 2019, Leonard has experienced little negative publicity.
Oh, then there’s also the matter of player load management. A movement in which Kawhi has been anointed the poster child. This has been a thing going back to Leonard’s days under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. During the Spurs’ long run, coach Pop was notorious for sitting his stars in the middle of the season no matter how big the game or opponent was.
That brings us back to Dr. J, and Leonard being his favorite player. In the past, Erving has spoken on load management and his less than fond feelings for this “new innovation.”
“Load management is a new innovation, and I think it’s endorsed by the officials, by the owners, board of governors. Everybody is in it, and somebody needs to be against it, too, and I am the one against it.” said Erving on his feelings toward load management during an appearance on Chris Haynes’ Posted Up podcast in 2021.
I’m not sure if it’s dawned on Mr. Erving, but Kawhi is, in most people’s opinion, the main culprit in this innovation known as load management. He’s hardly the only one, but could be the most egregious offender (among players) over the past decade. Obviously, we’re not including legitimate injury time. But Leonard hasn’t approached 70 games since the 2016-17 campaign in San Antonio.
Kawhi missed all but nine games the following season with a quad injury before forcing a trade to Toronto that offseason. During that 2018-19 championship year with the Raptors, Leonard played in just 60 games and was primarily healthy. He was spectacular when he played that year and capped it off by bringing Toronto its first NBA Championship. So most people, especially Raptors fans, have forgiven Kawhi for sitting out more than 20 games.
Apparently, Dr. J has also forgiven this or just plain forgot it since he’s such a big fan of Leonard’s. Many older generation players have come out against players sitting out games for no better reason than ‘rest.’ Players from 30 years ago didn’t make nearly the same money nor had the same advantages in training and medical technology as today’s crop of players. So, it’s easy to see how the older generation of legends might have strong opinions on the subject.
It’s strange hearing Dr. J name Kawhi his favorite, knowing he’s been outspoken against player’s load managing. That feels a little oxymoronic. Then again, when so many star players and coaches utilize the same tactic as Popovich and Leonard, it narrows the field a bit in choosing a favorite player.