Nobody brings it like Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett possesses a myriad of skills and talents, but his greatest strength as a basketball player is the fact that he competes every single night. As a man who has accumulated $291,362,398 Million dollars in his career thus far, in on the court earnings and stands to earn another $36,010,000 million dollars over the next three years, he still competes like he won’t eat if his team doesn’t win. How do you measure the worth of a player? How do you measure the worth of a man? Is it the stats, the wins, how good of a teammate he is? I look at Kevin Garnett and I see a trailblazer, a fierce competitor, a revered teammate and a man who got the most out of the talent that he had. He’s prepared mentally and physically for every game, every season and never cheats the fans that spend their time and money to watch him. Garnett never gets the acclaim or recognition that he deserves because he played the PRIME of his career for small-market Minnesota, and when he finally got to a big market, he was coming to “Paul Pierce’s team”. When he came to the Boston Celtics he transformed the culture of a raggedy lottery team, and molded them into a 66 win defensive juggernaut that captured the NBA title.
In June of 1995 Kevin Garnett was the fifth player taken in the draft behind, Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. He was the first player to jump from high school to the NBA since Moses Malone in 1975, and there was a rather large stigma attached with making that decision. A lot of people in the media were skeptical of Garnett making “the jump” from preps to the pros, “who does this kid think he is?”, “Anyone who takes this kid right out of high school is making a big mistake.” Kevin McHale, the former General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, was initially unsure about drafting the 19 year old Garnett, became a believer during a pre-draft workout in Chicago. As GM’s and scouts watched an assistant coach put him through the paces at the workout, everyone’s jaw dropped towards the end of the two-hour workout when Garnett positioned himself on the low-block and from a stand still started jumping up and touching the top of the backboard over and over, while screaming and slapping the backboard louder and harder each time. Everyone who watched him workout was impressed by his skill, speed and agility, but this display of freakish athleticism and unbridled intensity changed the perception of Garnett as a transformative prospect. And thus, a star was born.
I know it might be hard for some younger folks to believe, but Kevin Garnett was once known as, and referred to as “the kid”. Garnett was at the forefront of the NBA’s first “hip-hop” generation and was seen as “what’s wrong with the new generation of NBA players.” A large portion of that perception was due to being paired with New York City Phenom Stephon Marbury on the Minnesota Timberwolves, who while extremely talented, was perceived negatively by fans and basketball insiders. However, slowly but surely “the kid” became known as an unselfish, and tireless worker who didn’t coast on his natural ability. He was the rare combination of a player who was revered and lionized by young fans like myself for his athletic prowess, and heavily respected by the older generation for his all-around play. By the year 2000 he was easily one of the best players in the league, making the All-NBA first team, but was stuck on a middling Timberwolves team. Since his team kept losing in the first round of the playoffs, he kind of got lost in the shuffle behind other NBA superstars like Time Duncan, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The best part of Garnett’s game was his defense and ability to help his team in every single facet on offense. Most stars in the NBA are known as scorers, but Kevin Garnett could do it all, culminating in his MVP season in 2004, where he averaged 24.2 points per game, 13.9 Rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game. He doesn’t get credit for this, but he was the best player in the NBA in the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons, where he led the league in Player Efficiency Rating with 29.4 and 28.2 respectively. He was constantly compared to fellow Power Forward Tim Duncan, unfavorably, because his teams never really excelled in the playoffs, while Duncan had already won three championships by 2005. I always wondered what would happen if Garnett was surrounded by great players such as David Robinson, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker, it seemed we would never find out after the Timberwolves missed the playoffs 3 years in a row.
When Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007, casual fans finally got to witness what the basketball world already knew, Kevin Garnett was a Force. When Garnett put on that Celtic jersey, he transformed a 24 win team into a 66 win defensive force of nature. A lot of people attribute the growth and success of Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis to the leadership of Kevin Garnett. The spotlight hasn’t been completely kind to Garnett, due to his antics and fake tough guy routine that a lot of fans and NBA players have grown to loathe. Even after his knee injury in 2009 that sidelined him almost the entire season, he was remade himself into an elite center who still quarterbacks a top 5 defense and punishes opponents by running the floor hard and making mid-range jump shots like they are layups. It’s amazing that in his 18th year in the league he is still the most important player on a championship contender. It’s a testament to what burns inside of him, to the passion and intensity that has carried his team deep in the playoffs every single season that he has been in Boston. I have a deep admiration for everything that Kevin Garnett stands for and the way he attacks the game. Recently, I was listening to an interview with former Boston Celtic Brian Scalabrine, and he recounted being on a road trip with the team and having a three hour conversation with Kevin Garnett in front of the team hotel about basketball and the things that drive him to keep playing as hard as he does. He spoke about how important his legacy is, how he wanted to leave the game in a better place then he found it, and that all he wants to do is whatever it takes for the team to win. It’s incredible that after 18 years in the league he competes harder than most young players in their prime, this is truly his greatest quality. As a true fan of the game, I must salute Kevin Maurice Garnett, he is truly “the last of the Mohican’s”.