He wakes up in a cold sweat, on a tropical island as the ocean waves pound the beach outside his hut.
The man is lost in thought; his green tank top soaked in perspiration as the regrets of his life weigh him slowly. His joints creek and his back aches as he makes way to the bathroom; he glances at the mirror for a moment, barely able to look.
This is Larry Bird—the man who cast away Kawhi Leonard.
The organization knew exactly what they were looking; R. C. Buford standing at the back of a humid gym on the outstretches of Tijuana. He observed the hardwood diligently as the navy men in the bleachers roared for a corn rowed saint. The young man fit a profile: athletic, cerebral, and malleable.
His past would sometimes fire the synapses like battery acid on a wire—he remembers bits and pieces. Blindfolded. Thrown in the trunk of a car. Led to the Alamo bunker before the draft. Buford and shot doctor Chip Engelland teaching him the corner three in an empty gym. He was versed in being a Spur and everything that entailed.
This is not a drill soldier.
The young man’s final exam was killing an hombre somewhere around Puerto Escondido on the western rim of Mexico. Streams of blood permeated his dreams. Surfers found his body floating on the Pacific tide, exit wounds and all; it’s a miracle the sharks hadn’t caught wind.
Leonard went in survival mode; a rogue soldier living on instinct.
Like Bourne he had a natural gift for anticipation. It’s just wrong. The guy. The car he’s driving. What he’s wearing. It’s just wrong. Leonard would see plays before they happen. Stealing balls. Blocking shots. Reading the body language of his opponent.
I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.
Leonard became a master of blending in; traveling across the hemisphere with a suitcase of cash, passport, and his 1997 Chevy Tahoe.
Everything about him was efficiency. Modest clothes. No entourage. A haircut from an era long gone by. He cultivated a knack for languages; learning from agents hailing form Argentina, France, and Italy.
Both assassins mastered the art of stasis –the complete conservation of energy.
…Then striking with fury.
Bourne used it best at the Customs House in Naples. Sitting silently under armed watch.
Lunging to his feet. Punch. Punch. Two unconscious men on the ground.
Kawhi uses stasis even more often. Watch him before a game: hands on his knees, not moving a muscle. Sweat dripping as he awaits what may come. You’ll see the same every free throw, just motionless until motion is needed.
Defensively, it’s his anchor.
He quietly probes the man in front of him, lulling him into a false sense of control. Lunge. Yank. Leonard suddenly heading down court for a dunk; his opponent not clear what just happened.
Bourne would use whatever he had available to defend himself: a pen, a rolled up magazine, an old shotgun. Kawhi would use his gangly paws and length. There was no glory in what they did. Bourne would kill a man, and wash off the blood.
There was no sentimental Hollywood music, no action star machismo, no smiling for the camera. For Kawhi, the audience didn’t even exist. He put the ball in the basket and trotted downcourt as if he were alone.
Silence is the umbilical cord that ties them together. Bourne stayed mute as a way to keep off the radar, yet masking that he didn’t know who he was. There was loneliness. A horror. An awful truth their fathers had both been murdered.
His mind is broken.
Bourne had no natural allies, yet CIA leader Pamela Landy slowly became his friend. She believed he was being set up; that the agency was corrupt. Landy called the Russian interior minister and saved his life. She told him who he really was.
Kawhi developed that type of bond with Popovich, an Air Force man who was gruff on the surface and morally strong. There was a moment that marked their kinship. Heading into a timeout, Pop walked up and gently put his fist into Kawhi’s chest over and over and over again. Leonard was the future of his franchise, and he would never lead him astray.
Of course it was Marie who balanced out Bourne. The German gypsy with auburn hair was talkative, jovial, worldly, and eccentric. All things he was not. When Marie was sniped by a Russian agent with a bullet meant for Bourne, he did something he had never done before: he went on the offensive.
Kawhi Leonard’s soul mate was always Tim Duncan.
Timmy was an islander with an I’ve seen it all laissez-faire life. He was sarcastic. A jokester. He talked non-stop on the court. His defensive prowess around the rim allowed Kawhi the latitude to roam and play free safety and become the ultimate NBA cornerback. Duncan was the calming hand on the back of Kawhi’s head.
How could I forget about you? You’re the only person I know.
That all ended in Oklahoma City when Timmy put his finger in the air and left the game for good; super free agent Kevin Durant had put a hit out on Kawhi, and ended up taking out Duncan instead.
Bourne took a train into Moscow alone, bloody, limping; screeching a cab through pouring rain with the KGB and the Russian police in pursuit. He found his man, the one who took Marie. Putting his gun to his head, yet sparring his life.
Look at this. Look at what they made you give.
Kawhi is not the man we once knew; he’s now alone down by the border.
Both agents will use technology; Bourne with his cell phones, surveillance scopes, and high speed driving. Kawhi engaged in analytics, statistics, and biometrics.
Leonard learned to control the flow of the game off the dribble with better handles. Patience. Working the pick and roll. Creating his own shot. Launching a nouveau pull up jumper from behind the arc. Defenses will gravitate towards him, and he’ll find the open Spur.
Kawhi’s vocal chords are opening up. Talking on the bench. On the court. Even to the press. The elusive 50-40-90 club is not out of question, nor is a League MVP and a pardon from the agency.
Nonetheless, there will always be demons.
Cold sweats. Ocean waves. The world is still a dangerous place, and for that, they must always run.
Kawhi pulls out a crumpled photo out from his pocket. His face is still, as a single tear rolls down his cheek to the ground below. It’s a photo of him and Tim Duncan.
He’s off to Oakland to find a sniper; Kawhi’s gotta promise to keep.