When it comes to Kevin Garnett, statistically speaking, he’s one of the best of our generation and a no-brainer to go into the Naismith Hall of Fame on his first shot at basketball immortality.
But my fondest memories of him have little to do with the 2008 NBA title in Boston or the menacing scowl all opponents were greeted with every game, or even the intensity that he played with every second he was on the floor.
When I think of Kevin Garnett, I think of how he elevated everything and everyone around him and cared for those around him more than he often let on.
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Rookies soon found out the guy who was kicking their ass in practice and cussing them out when they didn’t listen is the same dude who would buy them suits at the start of the season because he wanted them to not only learn how to be pros but also look like it.
“He did a lot of good things that people didn’t know,” former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said on more than one occasion. “When rookies came in, he would bring them up to my office. He’d sit them down, and then he would bring his tailor in and say, ‘If you want to be a pro, you’ve got to dress like a pro.’ And he would buy each rookie two suits, and he did it every year. To me, that says a lot about Kevin Garnett as a teammate.”
One of my first encounters with Kevin Garnett came in the early 2000s when he was in Minnesota and I was in Detroit covering the Detroit Pistons.
Joe Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick and at that time one of KG’s best friends, was returning to Minnesota after a one-year stint in Detroit. So, naturally, the three of us reporters traveling with the team were waiting in the locker room to talk with Smith at the team’s morning shoot-around.
Out of nowhere, KG came in, nodded to us before saying, “I’ll be with you guys in a minute.” And we were like, ‘uh … OK.”
He must have spent 15 minutes talking to us about his relationship with Joe Smith, the importance of friendship and trust and family, respect for the game … it all made sense to me at that moment. If you are a competitor, there is no better teammate in the world than Kevin Garnett.
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“He’s the best, man,” Chauncey Billups, a former Celtic and Piston and — maybe most important — good friend of KG’s, told me back then. “He’s a great player. Everybody knows that. But as a teammate? They don’t come any better than KG.”
Indeed, Garnett is passionate about everything it takes to play basketball at the highest level. I have always felt there’s a short list of elite players who fall under the category of five-tool talents who can score, rebound, defend, pass and make their teammates better — all at a high level.
In all my years of covering sports, KG is the only player I have ever been around who had Hall of Fame-caliber skills in all five of those categories.
And since he has retired, we have chatted a few times about his days in Boston and how he’s getting used to his new role on the other side of the camera.
More smiles now, but the intensity to be his best? It’s still there and then some.
Now, he’s off to the Hall of Fame where he will finally be in the company of those whose passion for the game is close to his own, men and women who for years Garnett appreciated for the paths they blazed for him and so many others who have come and will continue to come after him.