The NBA thought they were ready, but in reality, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into in 1995. Kevin Garnett was the first High School player in 20 years to skip college and head straight to the NBA.
Back in the 90’s the NBA was more physical than the nonsense we see today. The post was full of big bodies that loved nothing more than to put a lighter, smaller player on their a** for even thinking about coming into the lane. But along come this skinny, fresh-faced , 19-year-old kid out of Farragut Academy in Chicago. What was this 6′-’11 240 lbs child going to do against the likes of Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Shawn Kemp?
His body said to sit him down and feed him but his talent said Hall of Fame. In his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves Garnett struggled. What else was to be expected from a kid in a grown man’s league? Even with the struggles, you could see the potential. He averaged 10 points and six rebounds but his defensive approach is what stood out to his teammates. Garnett, not one to shy away from contact averaged two blocks per game that season as he was just getting his feet wet.
By his fifth season in the league, Garnett had reached superstar status. During his time with the Timberwolves, there were heated debates over who the best PF in the NBA was. By that time, Tim Duncan was often mentioned but it was something about the way Garnett played the game that made you gravitate towards him. He approached basketball, not like a job but as a kid on the playground that was playing with his friends for 82+ games.
But here is the downside when being labeled a superstar, the pressure and fault will alway come at you the hardest. For all the points, rebound, blocks, emotion, and teammates that he played with he could never get the Timberwolves to the NBA Finals. Something within the organization had to change, or Garnett needed a change.
In 2007 that change came. The Wolves could not put together the proper pieces he needed to reach the level of the Kobe’s or Duncan’s, so Garnett packed his bags and headed to Boston with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Their first season together, Garnett finally knew what winning felt like as he won his first NBA Championship. He would go on to play in one more but he never felt that high again and for a player of his magnitude that had to sting.
After leaving Boston, he managed a few years in Brooklyn and then back to Minnesota, but the Garnett that we knew coming up was no longer the same person. The fire was still there, but the body was a few years ahead of him.
As we received the news of his retirement I had to think back to the what made him so special in the first place. In today’s game the hot search is for a stretch 4, a power forward that can step out on the perimeter and play like an SF or SG. Thinking back to Garnett’s game throughout his career, he was the first unofficial stretch 4. Garnett was a master at backing down his defender then hitting a turnaround or stepping back to 15-18 feet and draining one of his high-arching jumpers.
Have you seen Garnett handle a basketball in the open court? It was not on the level of Allen Iverson but for a man his size it was nothing to laugh at either. Garnett played team ball. For a player with his status, you could never tell by the way he often deferred to his team. Garnett would pass up a shot to get a better one for a teammate. He averaged four assists for his career, but those numbers are a bit misleading as his minutes and production took a dip as he got up in age.
During his dominance, he did post pers of 5-6 assists a game. His rebounding is often overlooked but for nine straight seasons, he averaged 13 per game. You cannot describe Garnett in one word, it’s impossible to do so. He was so many things that the NBA had no clue what to label his as, and for that reason alone, I am teary-eyed that we will not get a well deserved Farewell Tour the same way Kobe did. But, much like Duncan before him, it was never about himself. What Garnett did was for the team, win or lose, he put it on the line every night.
Garnett didn’t want or need the fanfare, but Garnett changed the way we look at big men today. Before it was, catch the ball, pivot, turn, and dunk. But that skinny kid came along and showed that anything was possible during a career that proved his moniker to be true.
I got a chance to see him play for two years while he was with the Nets and I enjoyed every minute of it. By that time he wasn’t the same player, but it was still the same person. I can’t believe he left without a proper goodbye. He didn’t owe it to us, we owed it to him.