SAN ANTONIO – Kawhi Leonard spoke publicly in San Antonio for the first time Thursday since he was traded in the offseason and unceremoniously left the franchise where he blossomed into an NBA star and MVP-caliber player.
Leonard chose not to discuss what led to his trade demand over the summer, but offered some of his fondest memories during his time in San Antonio.
“Going through those playoff battles year in and year out, definitely getting to the finals. It was a good time,” Leonard said.
Kawhi Leonard is back in SA as a member of #Raptors. Asked Kawhi about a message to #Spurs fans...also talks best memories in SA, possible fan reax, what it meant to be part of franchise: 'Meant a lot. I put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears wearing that jersey' #KSATsports #NBA pic.twitter.com/aASX7TyDhS— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 3, 2019
Thursday night's Spurs-Raptors game is expected to be an emotional affair.
It's rare that a Spurs player in their prime has ever left the franchise the way Leonard did.
Leonard said he's not sure what to expect from fans, but offered a quick message to those who still support him.
"Just thanks for supporting me, Kawhi Leonard, the basketball player, and that’s it really, just thanks for the support," Leonard said.
Leonard said it was a bit surreal at the beginning to be in Toronto after eight seasons and a championship with San Antonio, but he's accepted where he is, and is focused on winning a title with Toronto.
He is anticipating a fun atmosphere, from the crowd experience to playing against old teammates.
Danny Green is also making his return after several years with the Spurs. He admitted this will be a unique fan experience with the attention mostly on Leonard.
"In the bigger picture, it really is just another game," Green said. "But for both sides, the guys that have been in the trades and played for both organizations, its probably just a little more than one game.”
Danny Green on the reaction he expects tonight’s from #Spurs fans...also asked whether this is just ‘another game’ and admits it might mean more for everyone involved in Kawhi-DeMar trade #KSATnews #KSATsports #nba pic.twitter.com/CCPshaA1du— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 3, 2019
In a bit of a reflective moment, Leonard also spoke about his time with the Spurs and what it meant to be part of the franchise.
“It meant a lot. I put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears wearing that jersey," Leonard said. "I put in a lot of of work here.”
The Spurs-Raptors game tips off at 7 p.m. at the AT&T Center.