Kevin Garnett is retiring. For the first time since Bill Clinton was in his first term as President, there will be a season without “The Kid.” Oh, sure, he stopped being “The Kid” a long, long time ago.
He’s amassed over 50,000 minutes, third most in history. He is only the fourth player in history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Wilt Chamberlain, to amass over 50,000 combined stats: 26,071 points, 14,662 rebounds, 5,445 assists, 2,037 blocks and 1,859 blocks.
Along with Malone and Abdul-Jabbar, he is one of only three players to ever reach 20,000 points, 10,000 boards and 5,000 assists in his career.
His career stats add to his legacy, but they are not his legacy. That’s just the meat.
During his peak, he operated at a surreal level, with the offense virtually running through him as a power forward. Over a nine-year stretch, he averaged 22.4 points, 12.6 boards and 5.0 assists. Only six other players have ever done that for even a single season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
He went to 15 All-Star games, was named to nine All-NBA teams, 12 All-Defensive teams, won four rebounding championships, one ring and a Defensive Player of the Year.
But those accolades are just the potatoes of his legacy.
He was the meanest, nastiest, most ornery player ever. He’d insult you, your mother and your grandmother, and that was just before tip-off. Legends are told of his a**holery, and those are probably just getting started. Wait until the tall-tales get growing.
But even that is just spice–habanero maybe, but spice–to the whole thing.
With Garnett, you can’t just reduce the dish to the ingredients. It would be like calling lasagna “layers of noodles interspersed with a tomato sauce, meat, cheese, and seasonings, baked in the oven.”
Garnett is the totality of his career–his person–if you will. And there is one word that defines all that and all he did in his playing time: heart.
To put it in Garnett terms, that bleepity-bleep really wanted to bleeping win.
And for the first, and best half of his career, that wasn’t the case.
Over the first 12 years of his career, NBA players topped 10 win shares in a season 188 times; eight of those occurrences were Garnett. Only one was by one of his teammates: Sam Cassell in 2003-04. That was the season they went to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, who had four current/future Hall of Famers on the team in Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
Mostly, the Timberwolves were a test of how much one man could do, could will from a team of castoffs. No one wanted to play there. Who wants to live in a city where the temperature has a minus in front of it half the season?
Sometimes we equate the will to win with actually winning. That’s very post hoc, and sort of adds to our “if you want it bad enough” type of folklore. But hey, sometimes the team with more talent wins, regardless of how much passion one man has.
During those days in the West, the road to the Finals went through LA, with Kobe and Shaq, or it went through San Antonio, who had Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
It’s hard for one great player to beat two.
When Garnett sat down for the rawest interview I’ve ever seen with a player, he emptied out his heart (see at about the 5:00 mark).
KG would go on to get traded to Boston. He won a title there. And the state of Minnesota rejoiced for him because everyone knew how much he not only wanted to win, but deserved to have that ring.
I was at the University of Minnesota when he was drafted. Maybe because of that, to me, he was always The Kid in a T’Wolves uniform, even after he was traded. When he came back, it only seemed right that he would finish his career where it started.
Garnett’s legacy is his passion for the W. And very few, if any, have been on his level in that regard. In 20 years when I think of his legacy, it won’t be the numbers or the cussing that I’ll recall, but the ferocity of his heart.