An entry from Bryan Harvey’s Kawhi-ary, an ongoing diary about a season without much basketball:
This is a true story.
A lot of athletes are wired to sacrifice for the greater good. To help and collect data is to take part in the team’s quest. When an athlete cannot play, when a short career is rendered shorter by pain and injury, athletes come face to face with the ugliest of opponents, mental and physical vulnerability. Leonard is likely to play again one day and, most likely, he will continue on his upward trajectory. Still, his lost season is not without its dire antecedents.
Bill Walton, a native Southern Californian like Leonard, sat out the entire 1978-79 season with an injured foot. The injury had actually occurred in seasons prior, was surrounded by perplexing uncertainties, pressures to play, pressures not to play, and conflicting medical opinions. Like Kawhi Leonard, Bill Walton had been the focal point of a small to medium market basketball team that not only won a title but played some of the most exquisite team basketball imaginable, rendering him and his teammates caretakers of basketball’s ultimate abstractions: unity and sacrifice.
And yet, according to David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game, all that unity and sacrifice for the greater good left Walton feeling “desperately alone” (p. 334), and he eventually “read out a statement attacking Blazer medical practices and demanded that he be traded” (p. 335). He would end up a San Diego Clipper, closer to home, but farther from the basketball court.
Walton’s fate is most likely not Leonard’s, and whatever space exists between San Antonio and Leonard is not near the chasm that opened up between Walton and Portland, but even the most harmonious situations can dissipate — and they can do so in no time at all. What makes the San Antonio situation eerily similar to Portland’s unraveling is how no one predicted it. The key players also both hail from a place where the weather is warm and conspiring.