The New Zen Master

Kawhi Leonard’s trials and tribulations as he adjusts to life north of the border.

*Please note this story is entirely fictional, and is the fruit of the author’s imagination.

The sweeping white snow filled his vision, as Kawhi Leonard stared blankly outside his home’s large window. He knew the coffee shop wasn’t far, perfectly visible just down the hill on a clear day. But this was not such a day.

He looked at the four-row shoe rack near the door. The selection and style were immaculate, but none were fit for this weather. Amazon had promised his new boots soon, but it wasn’t soon enough. Reluctantly, he put on a pair of white sneakers, a thick parka, and headed out the door. The hellish onslaught of winter was not going to stop him from getting his coffee.

By his fifth step outside, he was already regretting his decision as the cold wet snow found its way into his shoes. He watched his footing, well aware that there would be some icy patches under the ever-thickening layer of fluffy snow. A cold gust of wind all but punched his exposed face, easily penetrating his parka as though it wasn’t even there. Kawhi picked up his pace.

Someone walked past him at a surprisingly brisk pace borne of a lifetime of long winters. The stranger wore countless layers, only their eyes showing. “Good day!” they said, nodding as they walked by, rebalancing expertly after momentarily slipping on a patch of ice.

Finally he arrived, entering the coffee shop’s warm embrace and taking in a deep, relieved breath. He had to do a double take as he checked his phone – the journey had taken him twenty minutes, when it’s usually less than five. He cursed under his breath, before stepping up to order.

“You… you’re Kawhi Leonard, right?” the barista exclaimed in a squeaky voice. “Can I… can I take a selfie with you?”

“Not right now,” Kawhi responded flatly before ordering his coffee, to the fan’s visible disappointment. “Ah, my bad, it’s just been a rough day. Come on, let’s take that selfie.” Kawhi said once a tiny portion of his hands were warmed by the coffee cup.

The return trip was no easier. When he stepped onto the patch of ice that the stranger so gracefully recovered from, Kawhi learned that he did not yet possess such skill. Once his balance was lost, he could not regain it, falling painfully onto his hip. The snow darkened as the coffee spilled. For the first time in a long while, Kawhi was heard. His primal scream, full of anger and frustration, echoed throughout the street.

Kawhi arrived at the training facility an hour before practice, knowing full well he needed to regain his composure. A distressed Kawhi was no true Kawhi. He made his way to the newly-renovated meditation room, re-purposed at his request when he first arrived in Toronto. Quietly sliding the door open, he saw OG was already inside. He was sitting on a meditation pillow, his eyes closed. The room was lightly lit, four small candles perched on stands in its corners.

If the young second-year wing noticed his presence, he gave no such signs. Kawhi stepped a few steps to the left of OG, and lowered himself onto the seat cross-legged.

Some minutes into the mediation, he could feel himself calmer, more collected. It was a familiar feeling, and one which he craved, always. He sensed a strong presence drawing near, much like he could sense a pass coming on the court with his back to the ball. The restlessness of the newcomer spread throughout the room like a nasty case of the flu.

“Hello Kyle.” Kawhi spoke no words, yet a surprised gasp and shuffle from behind told him that Kyle heard nonetheless.

“How’d you do that?” Kyle demanded, his whisper as loud as a jet plane within the silent room.

“It’s alright, Kyle. Sit down, join us.” Kawhi spoke directly into his point guard’s mind. Uncertainly, Kyle complied.

“Deep breaths, focus on one at a time,” Kawhi instructed wordlessly. Slowly, their breathing synced. After some time passed, Leonard began a guided meditation for the benefit of his restless teammate.

“Forty seconds left in a tied game seven in the second round. We’re defending, determined to get the stop and put our fate in our own hands. With the clock down and the opponent needing to put a shot up, you perfectly anticipate a pass into the paint, smacking the ball out of bounds ferociously. But as the ball flies out of the court, the whistle sounds, the refs calling a foul that wasn’t a foul—”

“They always pull that trash on us, man!” Kyle broke out of his trance, enraged and on his feet. “It ain’t right, they always cost us the game when it’s close!”

“It’s alright, Kyle, this kind of thing happens.” He said out loud this time. “Let’s take a breath, and sit back down.” He implored.

“Man, this is strange as hell. I’ll catch ya’ll on the court.” Lowry stomped out angrily.

“Do you think we can teach the rest of them?” Kawhi spoke directly into OG’s mind as they found their balance again.

“In time, ‘Whi. In time.” OG responded wordlessly.

The dying Crank ringtone woke him from his short nap. The phone display showed ‘Uncle Dennis.’

“What’s good, Uncle D?”

“I got it, kid. Free shoes for life, ha!”

“You got a shoe deal?” Kawhi asked with a tinge of excitement.

“You know it, ha!”

“Who we got? Nike? Nah, it’s Adidas right? Always wanted to do a commercial with Pogba.”

“Ha! We got New Balance, kid! Melvin and his boys at the home gonna be salty as hell every time we come through!”

“Uncle D, you playing, right?”

“Ha! I win, but I never play, kid!”

Kawhi closed his eyes, and took two breaths as deep as the Pacific. “I gotta run, Uncle D.” He hung up, falling back into the bed, biting his lip so as to not scream out.

He hadn’t remembered the Oracle arena being that quiet for large stretches of a game in ages. As the minutes ticked on, the end result appeared more and more certain from the weight room he’d been working at.

Apart from a short burst in the third, the walls around him never shook, nor his teammates falter. His Toronto Raptors were en route to pulling a season sweep over the reigning champs.

As the slightest hint of a smile creased his lips, a familiar chant had begun in this most unlikely of places.

Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors!

The northern war cry could not be ignored, pushing Kawhi just a little bit harder on his leg press set. He stood up, looking at the TV screen with interest. Toronto, and even Canada as a whole, were making a very loud point in the few months since he crossed the border.

After the game, he joined the light celebrations in the locker room, high fiving each and every member of the roster and coaching staff.

The sun may seem dimmer in the north, the air cooler, the spotlight less bright, and the shoe deals unexceptional. But did he really need all that?

On the other hand, his teammates and staff were top class, wins flowed like the Amazon, a passionate nationwide fanbase followed and embraced him, and Stephen A. Smith was a customs flight away.

Was that enough? He sat back, looking around the room, glad that he didn’t have to make that choice just yet. Taking in a deep breath, he determined to live in the present and enjoy the moment. After all, this may just be the beginning of something great.

If you enjoyed this one, you can find the other episodes in the Alternate Basketball Histories series here.