Kennedy Leonard – the Scotland 3×3 star raised in Michael Jordan-mad Chicago

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Kennedy Leonard honed her basketball skills in the gym where superstar Michael Jordan trained but is revelling in the chance to make her Dundee-born mum proud at the Commonwealth Games.

Leonard, 25, is part of the Scotland women’s 3×3 basketball team in Birmingham, but her entire childhood was spent on the other side of the Atlantic.

She was born in New Jersey in September 1996 and her family moved to Chicago nine months later, just before Jordan embarked on his ‘Last Dance’ season with the Chicago Bulls which ended with a sixth NBA title.

“When you grow up in Chicago, or spend time any time in Chicago, you’re automatically tuned into the Bulls and Michael Jordan in that era,” Leonard told the PA news agency.

“So it was cool to grow up and be surrounded by that and to be that close to something so iconic.”

Leonard would play and watch the sport all the time with her basketball-crazy dad and attended Bulls summer camps, where she had the opportunity to play in the same halls where Jordan and his team-mates would have practised.

The Bulls magic clearly rubbed off on her as she was offered college scholarships to play the sport, and joined the University of Colorado programme in Boulder.

On her Twitter page she talks about how people told her she was “not good enough, too small and too slow” but has emphatically proved them wrong.

Her success continued at Colorado, as she smashed the university’s all-time assists record. An injury at the wrong time ruled her out of the WNBA draft and she moved to Europe, first to Germany before joining the London Lions.

She was part of a Lions women’s team that won four titles last season and won each of the 24 WBBL games they played last season.

Playing in the Commonwealth Games for Scotland has added poignancy for Leonard, whose mother moved from Dundee to South Africa as a toddler before her swimming talent took her to the United States as a teenager.

“My mum is super proud,” Leonard said.

Scotland’s Kennedy Leonard drives past Australia’s Alex Wilson
Scotland’s Kennedy Leonard drives past Australia’s Alex Wilson (Martin Rickett/PA)

“Her parents are both Scottish, my grandpa passed away a while ago but my grandma passed away just last year from Covid.

“So I think for my mum it’s super-cool to be able to see me playing for Scotland. I think it probably brings some really good memories back of her family and her childhood and her heritage as well.

“My dad isn’t Scottish, but you wouldn’t know it. He wears all the Scotland kit. When he got to Birmingham he went to the Scotland House team store and he bought a pullover and a hat, he has all the merchandise. He’s ready to go.”

The 3×3 and wheelchair basketball competitions made their Games debuts on Friday in front of a near-capacity crowd.

Leonard and her Scotland team-mates were the first home nation to play, losing to Australia before bouncing back later in the day with a win over Sri Lanka. They conclude their pool programme against Kenya on Sunday ahead of a quarter-final on Monday.

The matches are 10 minutes – and stop before that if a team reaches 21 points – feature live commentary, backing music – Stormzy’s ‘Vossi Bop’ has featured – and even ‘media breaks’ where the commentator has a quick chat to a pundit while the players take a breather.

Leonard loves the way this modern, half-court version of basketball has found a home at the Games and said: “So many sports you have to go and be a silent spectator, you can’t enjoy it or jump into the moment, whereas basketball – especially 3×3 – it’s very crowd-driven.

“It’s not maybe traditionally what people expect at a Commonwealth Games but I think it’s something that can break that barrier and make it more enjoyable for fans and people to come watch of all ages.”

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