When R.C. Met Kawhi

The moment was set in motion three years ago. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

On June 23, 2011, a butterfly flapped its wings and the structure of NBA history changed forever. The San Antonio Spurs traded George Hill to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Davis Bertans, Erazem Lorbek, and Kawhi Leonard.

Was Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford ecstatic with the history that he created? Elated for elongating the life and rejuvenating the youth of his franchise? Ha.

“One of the more difficult nights in Spurs history”? Sure, I believe it. Look at those baggedy bags under Buford’s eyes, the uncharacteristic surface of stubble on his face. This is a man who has been pushed to his mental, emotional, philosophical limits, and understandably exhausted by the effort.

NBA trades are not like NBA games. There is not one winner, one loser, a clock ticking down to zero. History will show that the Spurs “won” this trade. It hardly matters that Bertans and Lorbek have not made their way stateside when we now have the truly awesome and iconic image of Leonard letting out an unprecedented display of emotion while receiving the trophy for Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals. And what image do you think of when you think of George Hill?

But this interview with Buford, conducted at the moment this history began to be set in motion, it shows that the Spurs lost as well. It shows that this notoriously stone-faced franchise plays the NBA’s business game with emotion, with feeling, with remorse. It shows that they feel the loss of their players not just on their cap sheets but in their hearts. Maybe this is why the Spurs hardly ever trade — you don’t have to lose your friends if you can nail the draft and free agency.

It’s not that Leonard was ever ritually brainwashed into the Spurs’ way of being. More like he genuinely emerged from the womb that way:

Even though the Spurs and George Hill were going steady, the reason R.C. Buford is a genius is because he was willing to put himself through a breakup in order to find his match that was as close to preordained as the basketball gods allow.

Miles Wray