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Kawhi Leonard on jersey retirement: 'It's a dream come true'

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Kawhi has his jersey retired by San Diego State (0:47)

San Diego State retires Kawhi Leonard's No. 15 jersey at halftime as the Aztecs face off against Utah State. (0:47)

SAN DIEGO -- Steve Fisher put his arm around Kawhi Leonard's shoulder and asked him to look around at a packed Viejas Arena, where 12,414 fans were standing.

"This is your legacy my friend," the former San Diego State coach told his most prized Aztecs recruit.

Returning to the place where he won two conference titles, reached a Sweet 16, worked his way into becoming an NBA lottery pick and even learned how to surf, Leonard watched his No. 15 become the first jersey in program history to be retired by San Diego State on Saturday night.

Typically a man of few words, Leonard let the fans know about the hopes and dreams he carried with him to campus as a lightly recruited prospect from Moreno Valley, California.

"It's a dream come true," Leonard said at halftime before the fourth-ranked Aztecs put away Utah State in an 80-68 win. "Just coming here, I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to put San Diego State on the map.

"I want to thank the coaching staff, Coach Fisher for recruiting me -- recruiting me hard -- just wanting me to come to the school."

It was an unforgettable day for Leonard. In fact, Feb. 1, 2020, was declared "Kawhi Leonard Day" by the San Diego City Council.

Earlier in the afternoon, Leonard scored 31 points to lead the LA Clippers to a 118-106 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center in Los Angeles. And at night, he was serenaded with "MVP" chants by an adoring Viejas Arena crowd while watching a banner with his jersey on it unveiled up high.

Surrounded by his family and friends, Leonard was also joined by members of the Clippers organization. Owner Steve Ballmer, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, coach Doc Rivers and several of Leonard's teammates were among those who came to support the NBA's reigning Finals MVP.

Paul George, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams were among the many Clippers who flew in on a flight chartered by Ballmer. Leonard arranged for his own plane to fly in a number of friends and relatives for his big night.

After the Clippers' win, Leonard was asked if he had considered flying to his college by helicopter since he has used that mode of transportation to commute from Los Angeles to his home in San Diego. Earlier this week after Kobe Bryant and eight others were killed in a helicopter crash just outside of Los Angeles, Leonard said his close friend Bryant had recommended utilizing a helicopter, and they shared the same pilot, Ara Zobayan, who died in the accident.

Though the tragedy hit Leonard hard, he said he had planned in advance to come down for this day by plane because he had family and friends making the trip with him.

"It's more people coming with me down here," Leonard said earlier Saturday about using a plane. "[Using a helicopter as transportation is] just so famous because it's Kobe Bryant."

Leonard, who also owns a residence in downtown Los Angeles, said earlier in the week that Zobayan was a "great guy" and "one of the best pilots" that passengers want to transport them from city to city.

"Like I said before, I really don't know the truth around [the tragic crash]," Leonard said after the Clippers' game. "But what's out there is, with a lot of fog, a lot of my helicopter flights got canceled because of fog. So if it's a clear day then, maybe yeah, I would take it. Just not at this particular point just because I have people with me."

Leonard, 28, was surrounded by those who know him best at San Diego State. And some former teammates who couldn't make it recorded video messages that were played during breaks in the first half.

San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher -- who was an assistant when Leonard played at the school for two seasons from 2009 through 2011 -- called Leonard quite possibly the greatest Aztec. It seemed appropriate that Leonard's message to Dutcher on Saturday was to "just win" the game.

The Aztecs went a combined 59-12 and reached the NCAA tournament in each of Leonard's two seasons. He earned second-team All-America honors his sophomore season and is one of just three Aztecs to average a double-double (14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds) for his career.

"When you think of Kawhi Leonard, one word jumps out at you -- winner," Fisher said. "A lot of people talk a good game. Kawhi doesn't talk a good game. He plays a good game."

Leonard said San Diego State was a major step in his career. He reached his goal of developing himself from a high school prospect who wasn't recruited by elite college programs into the 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft. And he was exposed to a life in San Diego that he did not have in Moreno Valley.

Leonard loved San Diego so much, he bought a home there. Dutcher called him "the gem of our city."

"Beside basketball, just the overall life," Leonard said of his time at San Diego State. "Being able to wear shorts, T-shirts throughout the whole year. Just hanging out with some teammates off the floor. Going to our first college parties or my first time driving to the beaches and learning how to surf, just things like that."

"Just a great honor, just another step in my career and, you know, just shows that hard work paid off," Leonard added. "I was able to reach that goal while I was there to be able to become a pro."

ESPN's Nick Friedell contributed to this report.