Kevin Garnett looked up with a sheepish smile on his face, seeing himself on the video screen at TD Garden for what could have been the final time, saluted the crowd and soaked in the chants of “KG! KG!” as the Boston Celtics closed out the Minnesota Timberwolves, 113-99, on Monday night.
At 39 years old, no one knows for sure whether or not Garnett will return for his 22nd season in 2016-17. Sure, he signed a two-year extension with the Timberwolves this past summer, but that doesn’t mean anything.
Taking that into consideration, Monday night could have been Garnett’s last appearance in the building where he won his first and only NBA championship, the floor where he famously shouted, “Anything is possible!”
The energy in the arena was tangible even for those who weren’t at the game.
The Celtics thumping the Timberwolves for a much-needed win was nothing more than a backstory.
Instead, the unrelenting chants for Garnett, who was in street clothes, took center stage, ranging from, “We want KG!” to, “Thank you KG!”
The future Hall-of-Famer received more cheers than any Boston player on Monday evening, and you know what? It was deserved.
It was deserved for a player who changed the entire culture of the Celtics organization when he arrived in the summer of 2007. It was deserved for a player who brought Beantown its first NBA title since 1986 during his first year with the franchise.
Most of all, it was deserved for a man who touched the hearts and minds of Celtics fans worldwide throughout his six-year tenure in green.
They say that sports are only a game, and while that may be true, someone like Garnett makes you think deeper. His unbridled passion and enthusiasm for his job, his dedication to his craft and his fervent will transcend sports.
Who could forget the 2013 playoffs, when the KG and Paul Pierce-led Celtics nearly stunned the New York Knicks and the entire world by coming this close to rallying from a 26-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 6 of their first-round matchup?
Remember: Boston had fallen into a 3-0 hole in that series, but won Games 4 and 5 to put a legitimate scare into the Knicks. Then the C’s furiously rallied from 26 down to send TD Garden into a frenzy, only to valiantly fall in the end.
That was Garnett’s final game as a member of the Boston Celtics, but the effort encapsulated not only his stint with the team, but his never-say-die attitude in general.
Even in a loss, KG demonstrated what basketball, what sports, what life, is really all about.
His devotion was contagious, not only to the players and the coaches and the front office but to the fans, as well.
All of that being said, perhaps the most admirable quality about Garnett is the fact that he seems entirely content with where he is at in life.
A lot of veterans would aim for that final shot of glory and would try and sign with a title contender for one last chance at a ring. While that is perfectly fine in its own right, Garnett didn’t need that.
In what was a storybook trade, KG accepted a deal back to Minnesota, where it all started, at last year’s February deadline.
He could have asked for a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets so he could sign with a team like the Los Angeles Clippers, where former head coach Doc Rivers had the reigns. But no. Not Kevin Garnett.
Garnett didn’t need one last playoff run. He obviously knew that the Timberwolves were not only not a title contender, but were also far off from being a playoff contender, but that didn’t matter.
Garnett simply wanted to be happy, and going home to Minnesota fulfilled that for him.
He was never one to be about the flash and glamor. He was more grit and grind (shout out to the Memphis Grizzlies) than anything else.
This is a man who toiled away in futile Minnesota for 12 years and never asked for a trade.
This is a man who takes practice as seriously as Game 7 of the NBA Finals. A guy who never, ever takes a play off and will verbally eviscerate anyone who does.
When you look back on KG’s career, you may think of it as a career of lost opportunity.
After all, the Timberwolves failed to put adequate talent around him during his run there. Garnett was clearly one of the top players in the league in Minnesota, and one could make a legitimate argument that he was the best player, period, for four or five years.
And while he did win a championship in his first year with the Celtics, you can’t help but think that he could have won more if he didn’t injure his knee during a rather meaningless game in Utah during the latter stages of the 2008-09 season.
Garnett missed the remainder of that year and was forced to undergo knee surgery, severely inhibiting him in 2009-10 and showing some after effects in 2010-11. It wasn’t until 2011-12 that KG really looked healthy again, but by that time, it was too late.
Yes, Boston made a plucky and magical run to the Eastern Conference Finals that year and pushed the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games, but while the C’s were still very good, they were also very injured across the board.
When Rajon Rondo tore his ACL during the middle of the 2012-13 campaign, the six-year run effectively ended.
Garnett was traded to Brooklyn along with Pierce that ensuing summer, and the proud Celtics were left with nothing but memories, what-ifs and some tugging at the heartstrings.
Still, in spite of all of the bad luck and spoiled chances, you can’t help but look at Garnett and marvel at what he has been able to do for so long.
His impact on the Celtics will be etched into Boston–and NBA–lore forever. Forget the fact that he brought the organization its first championship in 32 years. Forget the fact that he dominated both ends of the floor.
And remember the fact that, as a Celtics fan, you had the privilege of watching one of the all-time great players wear your favorite team’s jersey for six years.
So when Garnett looked up at that video screen on Monday night, visibly emotional and reflective as he waved to the crowd in gratitude, it was more than just the fading memory of what he did on the basketball court.
It was the indelible memory of what he brought to the people of New England, and NBA fans in general.
Thank you, KG.