SAN ANTONIO – Kawhi Leonard never really stood a chance Thursday night, on the court or off it.
Despite pregame comments from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and longtime guard Patty Mills about treating Leonard with respect and class during his return, fans were not ready to forget the way Leonard forced his way out of town. They wanted their metaphorical pound of flesh.
Leonard was booed during pregame introductions. He was booed during a tribute video the organization played to honor his and Danny Green’s accomplishments with the franchise.
And then they booed every time he touched the ball during the game.
The “traitor” chants came shortly after. They were loud and relentless, and a bit cathartic for Spurs fans who have never had a player of Leonard’s caliber turn his back on their team.
Spurs fans were yelling "traitor" at Kawhi 😮 pic.twitter.com/rGZqiONeUB— ESPN (@espn) January 4, 2019
Fans are fans, but in San Antonio, the Spurs are family.
“Spurs Family” is a common slogan the franchise uses to describe the relationship its players have with the city and fans.
So it's not a surprise that fans saw Leonard as a family member. They treated Leonard with class and respect during his time here.
They embraced his quiet nature and gave him privacy, but also wanted some form of an answer --anything, something -- as to why he suddenly wanted out of San Antonio.
Leonard has never given a public answer to that question. When given another opportunity to speak on the matter before the game, he once again chose to stay mum.
That's his right and he does not need to look back, but don't expect fans not to feel a bit jilted.
Kawhi Leonard postgame after #Raptors loss to #Spurs...said fan reception was mostly expected because media stirred controversy, added he didn't see tribute video, but might in the future...Leonard finishes with 21 points in first return to San Antonio #KSATsports #KSATnews #NBA pic.twitter.com/kqLGwHQsDh— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 4, 2019
After the game, Leonard said the jeers will only “make me better.” Leonard then proceeded to blame the media for the crowd’s reaction.
“The media does a great job to stir up people’s mind and to influence them to think a certain way, so I already knew how that was going to be,” Leonard said.
If that were the case, then why did the fans not heed Popovich’s and Mills' advice? It was widely reported that they hoped Leonard would not be booed.
The Spurs share some of the blame in how they handled Leonard's situation and Popovich said he "felt badly" about the fans reception.
ICYMI: Here's the tribute video the #Spurs played for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green before pregame introductions...boos for Kawhi every time he appeared and cheers for Danny...fans started to chant 'traitor' to Kawhi later in the game #KSATnews #KSATsports #NBA pic.twitter.com/lR3MASHher— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 4, 2019
The video tribute was an effort to sooth fans feeling toward Leonard. It did not work.
On an emotional night, the fans had their say even if Leonard may never publicly utter a word about the ordeal or take some blame for his exit.
The fans could choose to move on now -- and they probably should -- the way Leonard has, but not before having made sure their collective voice was heard.