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I don’t know what type of music Kawhi Leonard, who is now a two-time NBA champion and two-time Finals’ MVP, listened to as potential motivation during the Toronto Raptors’ series against the Golden State Warriors but James Brown’s The Payback would’ve been the perfect track to play before each game in the Finals.
Before the first verse, Brown stated in his distinct voice along with the sound of the wah-wah guitar: Hey, gotta gotta payback (The big payback) Revenge, I’m mad (The big payback) Got to get back, I need some get-back…Payback, payback (The big payback) That’s it, payback, revenge…I’m mad!
From there, Brown and Leonard go in different directions for their respective reasons of revenge since Leonard had his 2017 season ended after turning his ankle while landing on the foot of Zaza Pachulia, who clumsily or widely believed by many intentionally stepped in the landing space of Leonard.
At that point in the game, Leonard was giving Golden State the business (specifically 26 points and eight rebounds) and to the surprise of many, the Spurs were ahead by 23 points against Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the Warriors in the third quarter of Game 1 of the West Finals.
But Golden State rallied to win by two and then swept the series en route to also defeating Cleveland for the championship, which many believed the Warriors were destined to claim once Durant joined the team.
While Durant and the Warriors became back-to-back champions the following season, Leonard didn’t get a chance of payback since he only played nine games due to tendinitis in his right quad.
Then despite Leonard’s health concerns and expiring contract, the Raptors’ president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri rightfully sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Leonard.
Ujiri also made the more acceptable decision (fans were so blinded by DeRozan’s loyalty to the franchise that they didn’t approve of the trade) of replacing Dwane Casey with assistant coach Nick Nurse.
On the way to the Raptors notching 58 wins during this past season, Ujiri also moved more his chips (C.J. Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright) to the middle of the table, bringing in Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies before the trade deadline.
With Ujiri now “all-in”, the Raptors eliminated the Magic to begin the playoffs then the Sixers in thrilling fashion, thanks to Leonard reenacting a Jordan fadeaway at the buzzer in Game 7, and the Bucks via comeback in six games.
Now, the only team between Leonard and his second title are the Warriors, who ended his season in 2017 (which is an easy fact to forget), so The Payback is dominating the playlist.
In the Finals, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Danny Green and Gasol all stepped up big in different moments to help Leonard outlast the wounded Warriors in six games.
And like that, “Revenge” for Leonard along with the jackpot for Ujiri, who gambled on a potential one-year rental.