When Kawhi Leonard made his first All-Star team in 2016, he and his camp noticed how some of the other stars in the game were using private luxury cars to get around instead of the standard transportation provided by the NBA.
Leonard has always been labeled as a low-maintenance guy who doesn't care about fame and just wants to play basketball. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year has only tweeted four times, been reluctant to be in commercials and doesn't have an Instagram account like many stars do.
But it appears as his stardom continued to grow, Leonard and his management team were starting to change.
"The first cracks in the low-maintenance veneer came in 2016, when Leonard made his first All-Star game — in Toronto of all places. Leonard and his traveling companions noticed other All-Stars — notably Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook — were using private luxury cars to get around, instead of the standard transportation provided by the NBA. They wanted the star treatment, too.
"Leonard’s trip to China in August of 2017 seemed to spark another change in him. Everywhere he went on the NBA ambassador junket, Leonard was mobbed by fans wearing his jersey and other Spurs gear. The experience also stuck with Leonard’s personal management team, including his uncle, Dennis Robertson. His advisers began to see Leonard’s potential as a top-shelf star and global brand."
The Spurs traded Leonard to the Raptors after the star forward requested a trade. Leonard and his camp reportedly wanted to be traded to Los Angeles, a market where Leonard would get more national attention.
“Big market” normally refers to a mix of a team’s media market size, popularity, relevance and how much national attention they get. The LA metro area is large, they have national -- and global -- popularity and generally get a ton of media attention. A player who plays for the Lakers or Clippers invariably gets more media coverage as a result.
But Leonard has never been a media friendly guy. He's a very quiet and private individual and doesn't really have a close relationship with any big time reporter. Unless that changes, it will be hard to market and build Leonard's brand.
Leonard has been a Jordan Brand endorser since coming into the league, but the company is going to let Leonard walk when his contract expires later this year, according to a report from Nick DePaula of ESPN.
Extension talks between Leonard and Jordan Brand stalled earlier this year after Leonard turned down a four-year, $22 million extension. Leonard and his team were looking for a more lucrative deal.