Fan’s Perspective: When Kevin Garnett Realized Winning Was Everything

Basketball, J. Tinsley — By on February 10, 2012 at 9:28 am


“I came out the womb, man. This how I am. I’m built like this.”

There’s an elephant in the room. What is it exactly? Kevin Garnett’s career is almost over. This could be his last year. Or he could go on to play two more seasons. Either way, it’s something I’ve come to grips with and realized in three stages. The first is when his game began shifting away from the post into the classic old man mid-range jump shot realm. The second was Game Two of last year’s second round match-up against the Heat when LeBron kept going up while KG (it seemed) almost never got off the ground. And third, yesterday. With Garnett not making the Eastern Conference’s All-Star reserves, it marks the first time in 14 years he’ll be absent from the midseason classic. K.G.’s been just as important to the progression of the NBA post-Jordan (second retirement) as anybody else.

At first, focusing on Kevin’s place in history was going to be the theme of what you’re reading. Where is he on the list of all-time power forwards? How does he stand against his generation’s most comparable foe (Tim Duncan)? Did he stay in Minnesota too long? Nearly a hundred other questions lingered, but none seemed more important than one in particular. How should the man once referred to as “The Big Ticket” ultimately be remembered?

More than his points, rebounds, post-game reaction after the 2008 Finals or the instant classic “bar fight” quote with Craig Sager, Garnett will always be glorified for one moment in my personal rolodex. And that moment happened off the court. In 2005, the Minnesota Timberwolves were coming off a season where they made the Western Conference Finals. KG was the NBA’s reigning MVP, thanks to a season that saw him produce a dizzying 24-14-5-2-50% (points-rebounds-assists-blocks-FG%). By the time he sat down John Thompson, however, the bottom had all but caved in, headlined by Flip Saunders’ firing, as well as the team crumbling for a variety of issues.

This interview with Thompson told me everything I needed to know about Garnett, the player, and Garnett, the man. It’s that powerful. Excluding only Allen Iverson, no superstar in basketball during this time wore emotions on his jersey more than K.G. Lost in translation now, there was once a period when the perception around him permeated questions about his ability to produce when it mattered most and if he would ever spawn into the winner his skills seemingly dictated (the Wolves were eliminated in the first round for seven consecutive seasons begninning in 1996-97). Dealing with the pressure from his own conscience, combined with that of the expectations of being an elite player, the result were tears.

Winning’s addictive if, for no other reason, it represents the ultimate high. It’s seen on the face of players who reach that level of success. Yet, it’s also seen on the face of those who seek their profession’s top honor, but fall short. Kevin’s tears were much more than him being the overly emotional, attention-hungry player he’s often viewed as. They were the reason cries for his departure to leave Minnesota rang loud during the mid-2000′s. Not to the extent of witnessing a loved one in pain, K.G. carrying a franchise that appeared hell-bent seeing him climb a mountain no individual has ever reached on their own was gut-wrenching. But he tried. Over and over and over again. You respected his tenacity. You had to, but you also knew in the back of your head that he couldn’t do this forever. When was “too late” going to arrive?

In a decade which saw Kobe and Shaq create a legacy of winning and controversy while Tim Duncan solidified himself as the game’s greatest four, the lesson Garnett provided basketball moving forward was equally as impactful. His move to Boston afforded him that ring many were beginning to think would never arrive, due to his years in Minnesota. It’s his loyalty (almost to a fault) which serves as a small reason why the NBA free agency process is as knee-jerk as it is now. K.G.’s now memorable conversation with LeBron following the Celtics victory over the Cavs in 2010 isn’t the sole cause for James deflecting to Miami. His quote, however, spoke volumes.

“Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can’t get youth back. I can honestly say that if I could go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d have done it a little sooner.”

Granted, the 2010 version of Kevin Garnett couldn’t tell the 2005 version of himself this, but with mistakes come the ability to teach. Now am I suggesting Kevin Garnett is responsible for the modern-day Miami Heat, or Carmelo Anthony forcing his way to New York, or Dwight Howard’s current vice grip over league headlines? Not exactly. However, every superstar since this interview has seen this clip. And they’ve all given thought in regards to their current situations and debated how far their own God-given talents could place them in history. At some point, it’s bigger than one person.  In his own words, “This ain’t golf. This ain’t tennis. It ain’t about me. It’s about us.”

The eternal nuisance of being labeled a “loser” haunted him far beyond a three-second call or an offensive foul. It was evident as he admitted to barely sleeping while his voice cracked and eyes remained glossy the entire clip, even tearing up to the point where he could hardly speak on several occasions. With his armor obviously battered, Kevin Garnett’s vulnerability never appeared stronger. Too often in sports, we see expectations from a fan perspective. We want. We yell. We kick. We deal with the agony of defeat in our own way. That’s just how we’re programmed. Dealing with the weight of the team, fanbase, city and world on your shoulders? Just know there are some battles in life impossible to describe…unless you’re going through them.

J. Tinsley

@JustinTinsley is stuck halfway between a dream and reality. The plan? To make that dream a reality.

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    4 Comments

  • Josiah says:

    After the kind of success that Minnesota had in the 2003/04 season, the front office should have tied up any loose ends during the off-season, and loaded up for another run to the title. Instead, they celebrated the season, counted the profits, then closed shop. The product at The Target got progressively worse, and Garnett eventually checked out, choosing to “shop” for a ring at another franchise.

    The only disagreement I have (I’m sure there’s a gazillion other people too) with LeBron’s move is of course how he handled it. Other than that, I don’t blame him for leaving town. Of course, during LeBron’s tenure at Cleveland, the Eastern Conference was for the most part trash.. too many bad teams beating up on each other… and Detroit was pretty much the only solid team, until Ray Allen and KG headed to Boston.

    LeBron was surrounded by talent that was good enough to beat most teams, but not the best ones. And so Quicken Loans couldn’t “borrow” enough to build that contender eventually “defaulting”, we all know what happened next.

    When Kobe was up in arms about wanting to “Escape from L.A”, the front office did what they could to back him up, and it paid off… Then again, the Lakers have that tradition though…

  • Excellent post, Tinsley. Great perspective and insight on KG’s career path and the impact he’s had on the game. Absolutely one of my all-time favorite players.

  • Joe Simmons says:

    Absolutely agree with Josiah. Small markets have a tendency to dwell on what they’ve done instead of what they need to do. Small markets can compete they just have to know that the revenue stream for ownership isn’t going to be like a major market. Instead the greed and love for money over come the will to win and you get guys like KG who opt out and head to a market where they can get titles. Money is good but winning is everything.
    Great post as always Tinsley..

  • Great post, excellent read.
    I was a huge KG fan up until that first round series the Celtics had with the Bulls in ’09 where he somehow managed to become the most hated man in his former stomping grounds of the Chi without even playing a minute.
    Prior to that though, I was in awe of his game and all those consecutive seasons of dropping at least 20, 10 and 5 per in Sota.
    I think when looking at the Wolves’ failures all those seasons, you can’t overlook two decisions they made that ended up haunting them, most likely to this day.
    That under the table deal with Joe Smith made them lose, I think, 3 draft picks and also hindered McHale’s ability to be a GM.
    Also that huge contract they gave to Garnett, while it guaranteed they would hold on to KG, probably cost them as well in regards to being able to surround him with better talent.
    So fast forward a few years and suddenly you’ve got KG with subpar teammates, and you can’t improve the squad through the draft OR free agency.
    They had Cassell and Sprewell for a bit and things seemed to be looking up, but you know what they say about things…

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