Unfortunately, Michael Jordan and Kawhi Leonard also share a tragic similarity.
Michael Jordan’s dad was shot in 1993
Michael Jordan won his third straight title in 1993 after leading the Chicago Bulls to the Larry O’Brien trophy over the Phoenix Suns. He was on top of the world and established himself as the most popular athlete in sports.
During the summer of 1993, Jordan planned to spend time with his family and evaluate his NBA future. His best friend was his father, James Jordan. MJ and James were always side by side.
However, James decided to take a road trip in July and went missing for several weeks. In August of ’93, his body was found in a creek by a fisherman near McColl, S.C. He had been shot in the chest by two men, Larry Martin Demery and Daniel Andre Green.
Police said James Jordan was killed on July 23 while taking a nap along a North Carolina highway in his car. MJ wound up retiring from the NBA after his father was murdered and played baseball for the Birmingham Barons in 1993-94.
Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls near the end of the 1994-95 season. He won three more rings and three more Finals MVPs in 1996, 1997, and 1998.
Kawhi Leonard’s dad was killed at the age of 43
Kawhi Leonard’s dad, Mark Leonard, owned a car wash in Compton, California. While Kawhi was in high school at King in Riverside, Mark was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting.
Kawhi used his father’s death as motivation to get to the NBA. He played his college basketball at San Diego State and entered the NBA in 2011. The Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard in the 2011 draft, but the San Antonio Spurs acquired him on draft night.
Leonard was initially a role player on the Spurs before blossoming into a superstar. He made two All-Star teams in San Antonio and won two Defensive Player of the Year Awards.
In the 2014 Finals, Leonard won Finals MVP after leading the Spurs to the title over LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The talented small forward became the second-youngest Finals MVP since the NBA started handing out the award in 1969.
Like Michael Jordan, Kawhi Leonard lost his father to gun violence. Both NBA legends, though, honored their fathers in the most special way possible.
Jordan and Leonard won championships on Father’s Day
Michael Jordan and Kawhi Leonard won championships on Father’s Day to honor their dads. It’s pretty special that MJ and Leonard both accomplished this feat.
Jordan won his fourth title on Father’s Day in 1996. The Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics at home to complete their 72-10 season. As expected, Jordan was very emotional after winning the title and broke down in tears in the locker room.
Meanwhile, Leonard won his first championship on Father’s Day in 2014. He wasn’t emotional like Jordan was since Leonard doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. However, the California native knew his father was looking down on him and smiling.
Michael Jordan went 6-0 in the Finals with the Bulls and won all six Finals MVPs. He’s universally recognized as the best basketball player of all time.
On the other hand, Kawhi Leonard is still building his résumé. He’s won two titles and two Finals MVPs with the Spurs and Toronto Raptors.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.