Yesterday, news broke that Kevin Garnett is retiring from the NBA, bringing an end to a truly legendary career. KG was someone that nobody will ever forget. His over the top competitiveness, on court antics, unparalleled talent and at times tumultuous career have more than secured his place among the great characters in NBA folklore.
When he first hit the NBA scene back in 1995, he became the first player in 20 years to be drafted out of High School when the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves made the 6’11” power forward the fifth pick in the draft. In his first game, he came off the bench to score eight points on perfect 4-4 shooting. While the Timberwolves would have a lousy season, going 26-56, KG would establish himself as a starter by the end of the season, finishing the year with averages of 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.
The next season, the Timberwolves acquired rookie Stephon Marbury, and for the first time ever, the Timberwolves fans had reasons to be excited. They made their first Playoffs, going 40-42, which for them was a mammoth accomplishment. They’d promptly get swept by the Houston Rockets, but between Garnett, who was named to the All-Star Game, and Marbury, the future was looking bright.
During his third season, Garnett signed a contract extension worth 126 million dollars over six years. The deal caused quite a ruckus, as players and owners squared off over the rising values of contracts. This would be one of the key issues that would lead to the lockout that would shorten the 1998-99 season. Despite the ruckus, Garnett continued improving, and the Timberwolves would have their first winning season, going 45-37, but once again getting dispatched in the first round of the Playoffs, this time by the Seattle Supersonics.
During the offseason, Minnesota’s leading scorer, Tom Gugliotta, joined the Phoenix Suns, opening the door for Garnett to take over. He did not disappoint, averaging 20.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game, and kicking off the finest stretch of his career. However, the Timberwolves would trade his fellow young star, Stephon Marbury, to the New Jersey Nets, and the team took a step back, going 25-25 during the lockout shortened season, and once again losing in the first round of the Playoffs, this time to the San Antonio Spurs.
As Kevin Garnett continued to grow into a superstar, the Timberwolves couldn’t improve upon their Playoff fortunes. Despite leading them to their best record in franchise history to that point (50-32), and once again improving his numbers (22.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5 assists per game), Garnett and the Timberwolves once again lost in the first round of the Playoffs in 2000. Making matters worse, not long after the Playoff exit teammate and best friend Malik Sealey was killed when a drunk driver crashed into his car head-on while Sealey was heading home after Garnett’s birthday party. On top of that, all hell was breaking loose with the Timberwolves. They had signed Joe Smith to a contract deemed below market value, and had promised him a higher contract further down the road if he’d take less money at the time so they could fit him into their salary cap, which was of course bogged down by Garnett’s big-ass contract. The NBA frowned upon this, and stripped the Timberwolves of several first round draft picks, severely hindering their ability to improve the team, and they even banned GM Kevin McHale for a year.
Over the next two seasons, Garnett’s numbers continued to improve. During the 2002-03 season, he averaged an insane 23 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6 assists a game. However, the Timberwolves were still unable to make it out of the first round of the Playoffs, making it seven straight seasons of first round exits. Because of this, Garnett started getting a reputation as a fine regular season player, but someone who couldn’t bring his team to a championship level, especially with his quieter rival, Tim Duncan, winning titles down in San Antonio.
Finally, during the 2003-04 season, it looked as though it might be the Timberwolves year. Teaming up with Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, Garnett led Minnesota to what remains their most successful season ever. They went 58-24, winning their division. Garnett was named league MVP after submitting averages of 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5 assists. They even made it past the first round of the Playoffs! In the second round, they faced a Game 7 against the Sacramento Kings. Garnett rose to the occasion, springing for 32 points and 21 rebounds, as the Wolves won, 83-80, to reach uncharted territory: the Western Conference Finals. There, they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, but Minnesota had gone farther than they ever had before, had the league’s MVP and a solid Big 3 of Garnett, Cassell and Sprewell.
Just as quickly as the Timberwolves became one of the best teams in the league, it all came crashing down. The next season, despite another stellar season from KG, Minnesota missed the Playoffs after falling to 44-38, a record usually good enough for a Playoff spot, but not in the ultra-competitive Western Conference that year. It was also 14 fewer wins than their great season the year before. After that, Cassell was traded to the Clippers, and Sprewell refused a 3 year, 21 million dollar contract extension, leaving Garnett alone with a substandard supporting cast. Minnesota slipped back to their pre-Garnett losing ways, going 65-99 over the next two seasons. Garnett’s best teammates during these years were the likes of Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. That’s enough to make somebody want to join a convent.
As the Timberwolves went from one of the better teams in the league to a depressing mess, the noise about Garnett not having what it takes to be a winner, a real superstar that can drag a crummy team to bigger and better things, a clutch performer, intensified to their highest levels. The frustration continued to mount for him, a man who always played his ass off, never mailed it in and wore his heart on his sleeve each and every night. Trade rumors began to swirl as KG toiled for an uninspiring, depressing basketball team.
Finally, on July 31, 2007, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics, a franchise going through a similarly depressing time. The Celtics traded five players and two draft picks to get Garnett, who would join Celtics stalwart Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, acquired in an earlier trade to form a new Big Three, and raise the Celtics out of the doldrums. This was also the day Kevin Garnett became a part of my life. As loyal readers (if any) know, we here at The Bonus are big Celtics fans, and I still count the news of this trade as some of the best I’ve ever received.
Everyone knew Garnett’s reputation as an intense competitor, but getting to see him display it every night for your favorite team was one of the greatest experiences a basketball fan could have. On opening night, Garnett introduced himself by going off for 22 points, 20 rebounds and 5 assists in a resounding 103-83 victory over the Washington Wizards. The energy he brought to the game and to the home fans was palpable. I remember watching the game at college and afterwards thinking, “This is going to be fucking awesome.”
It was fucking awesome. The Celtics stormed through the season, going 66-16. Garnett’s addition not only made the C’s better than they had ever been during my lifetime, he also brought back the concept of Celtics Pride, something that had been mainly dormant during my life as a Celtics fan. His incredible competitiveness, chest pounding, roaring, storming around, defense and hell raising spread to the rest of the team. The Celtics were miserable to have to play against, and for the first time in my generation, Celtics games were can’t miss events. We all have Kevin Garnett to thank for that. Growing up, I felt gipped that I missed out on the prime years of Bird, McHale and Parish, the gritty teams of Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White, or the legendary squads of Russell, Cousy, Heinsohn, Sharman, KC and Sam Jones, and the rest of the gang. At that point, I was looking forward to telling my grandchildren about Dino Radja and Antoine Walker (don’t think I’m still not going to tell my grandchildren about those two unheralded legends), but you get the point. Anyway, once Garnett was in town, the Celtics were not only good, but they meant something again, and it was nice to get to experience that first hand, instead of experiencing it through the tales passed down by the old timers.
Of course, nothing’s easy. After steamrolling through the regular season, the first-seeded Celtics were taken to seven games by the Atlanta Hawks, a team that went 37-45. Another seven game series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round continued to raise concerns, and that old noise and doubts about Kevin Garnett’s credentials as a Playoff winner once again surfaced. However, Boston continued on, defeating the Detroit Pistons in six games to make it to the Finals to take on their old and bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Through the first five games of the Finals, KG was struggling. His shooting and scoring were down. Was he running out of gas? Did he have it in him to come up big in the big moments? Well, Game 6 in Boston put those questions to rest. Up 3-2 in the series, and looking to wrap up their 17th championship at home, the Celtics submitted one of the all time ass-whoopings in Finals history, with KG leading the way. He led the Celtics with 26 points and 14 rebounds as they ran away to a 131-92 victory. The cherry on top was his postgame interview, still one of the best moments I’ve watched live…
The following season, the Celtics could have repeated, but Garnett was injured late in the season, and lost for the Playoffs. After that, his numbers slowly decreased, but his energy, spirit and importance did not. With him, the Celtics remained championship contenders every year, reaching another Finals in 2010 (losing in seven games to the goddamn Lakers), and almost dragging themselves to another in 2012, despite running on fumes and featuring a supporting cast reminiscent of those lousy Timberwolves teams that Garnett had to deal with.
In the summer of 2013, the Celtics, seeing the window of the KG/Pierce era closing, traded the two legends to the Brooklyn Nets, a trade that’s still paying off thanks to all of the draft picks the Nets gave up, combined with how horrendous a team they’ve become, so in a way, Garnett is still helping the Celtics out. After a year and a half in Brooklyn, he was traded back to Minnesota, where it all began. With his skills now increasingly diminished, that same competitive spirit remained. The roaring, the chest bumping was still there, and the youngsters in Minnesota learned a lot from his legendary example. Now, the Timberwolves are on the cusp of becoming an exciting, potentially even good team again, for the first time since Garnett’s prime. They haven’t even made the Playoffs since that trip to the Western Conference Finals. It’s all come full circle, and it seems like the right time for Garnett to leave the courts of the NBA, as the next generation of players and fans begin to share their own experiences, and cement their own legacies.
Kevin Garnett is one of the greatest and most unique players ever to grace the NBA. We’re approaching 2,000 words here, and there’s no way I did him full justice. He finishes his career a 15-time All Star, an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year, a nine-time member of an All NBA Team, a 12-time member of an All Defensive team, and most importantly, a champion. He’s amassed 26,071 points, 14,662 rebounds, 5,445 assists, 1,859 steals and 2,037 blocks, making him the only player ever with at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 steals and blocks. What more can you say about the guy?
I’ll tell you what more. From the time I was in third grade to now, when I’m nearly 30, Kevin Garnett has been a larger than life character in the ongoing story of the NBA, my favorite sport. He also, personally it seemed, rescued my favorite team and supplied my generation with their own legendary and memorable group of Celtics. I had more fun in life because I was lucky enough for Kevin Garnett to be on my favorite team for six memorable seasons, and we all had more fun in our lives because we were lucky enough to be able to watch him play basketball for the last twenty years. There won’t be another like him, and I don’t know about you, but I’ll always be grateful that I got to grow up watching him. Whenever you’re feeling down in the dumps about your basketball team, just remember what KG taught us: anything is possible.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!