The career of Kevin Garnett was unlike anyone else’s, which only made sense considering the type of player the Big Ticket made himself to be in his 21 seasons in the league.
Drafted out of high school, Garnett made general managers want to take risks on kids that seemed to be a work in progress. Garnett quickly became the opposite, flashing a versatile game on both ends of the floor; a skill set so mind boggling that it forced the NBA to create a cap once he was rewarded with a 6-year/$126 million contract at just 21 years old.
No one had ever seen someone at “6-foot-13” capable of running the court the way he did, nail mid-range jumpers with the finesse of a shooting guard, block shots and defend with a certain level of ferociousness, while still being able to dominate the glass. It was that type of versatility that helped Garnett become the only player in NBA history to reach at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks.
All the money in the world couldn’t reward Garnett for what he did for the game of basketball. At the end of his career he did finish with an NBA leading $326,304,240 for his time on the court, but it was his intensity and love for the game that people understood were priceless qualities
One of the things that separated Garnett early on, was his mental toughness and his determination to get into his opponent’s head. Whether it was swatting Reggie Miller’s shots away from the rim after the whistle as a rookie, or telling Carmelo Anthony that his wife tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios, Garnett had no filter. Whether he crossed the line or not at times will always remain a topic of discussion, but his dedication to the game will never be questioned.
Garnett was one of the game’s most notorious trash talkers, but one of the only ones that could truly back it up. When he first came into the league, he carried a Minnesota Timberwolves franchise on his back, guiding them to the playoffs in 8 of his first 12 seasons in the league. Before his arrival, the Timberwolves never had a winning season, but were able to make it all the way up to the top of the Western Conference with him leading the way.
The Timberwolves were able to secure the 1st seed with a 58-24 record throughout the 2003-04 season, earning Garnett MVP honours. Unfortunately from that point on, things started to decline in Minnesota; with it becoming apparent that an older Garnett couldn’t carry an entire franchise for much longer.
The Big Ticket would be traded to the Celtics in the summer of 2007, forming the NBA’s 1st “super team” that would actually be successful. With Ray Allen and Paul Pierce by his side, Garnett was able to transform the Celtics into instant title contenders. He was selfless, but held everyone accountable as he quickly inserted a certain level of focus and dedication across the franchise.
It paid diffidence, with the Celtics completing one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history. The season before Garnett’s arrival, Boston was in one of the worst holes in the league; with them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 24-58 record. Garnett would quickly change that, as the Celtics would carry out a dominate 2007-08 season with a 66-16 record, finishing with their 1st NBA Championship since 1986.
Averaging only 18.8 points in his 1st season in Boston gave Garnett the chance to contribute in ways that couldn’t be defined on a stat sheet. For the 1st and only time in his career, he was able to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award – guiding the Celtics to one of the most historically great defensive units in the history of the league. In the process, he would also become one of four players to win both MVP and DPOY, joining Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
When Garnett would miss 25 games the following season, the Celtics didn’t look like they missed a beat. It was Garnett’s presence in the locker room that kept everyone in check, with everyone continuing to act and train as true professionals because of the mindset the Big Ticket had established.
His leadership was apparent from the moment he stepped on the court. It didn’t matter if they were winning or losing, you could hear Garnett’s loud voice throughout an entire arena as he led his teams on both ends of the court. It’s what earned him the 2003-04 MVP award, the 2008 DOPY, 15 All-Star selections, while also making an All-NBA team 9 times in his career, and an All-Defensive team 12 times.
But it was also his leadership that helped his career last as long as it did. By the time Garnett had arrived to the Brooklyn Nets for the 2013-14 season, it was apparent that he couldn’t be a franchise leading player for any longer. His 131 playoff games at the time gave him the experience and wisdom few players were ever able to collect throughout their careers.
After collecting 12 more playoff games under his belt, Garnett decided to go back “home” and deliver that wisdom to a young wolf pack. He returned to a franchise he led in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks; the only player in the history of the game to be able to own that type of honour.
Back with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett continued to impact the franchise in ways only a player of his makeup was capable of doing. He had a couple moments on the court, such as his nasty dunk on Blake Griffin, but it was once again his leadership that was most important.
With players like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Karl-Anthony Towns on the roster, Garnett became the pack leader for the Timberwolves’ young collection of promising talent. Garnett only appeared in 38 games last season, but you could still hear that same voice talking trash off the bench, and giving out pointers to the eventual unanimous 2016 Rookie of the Year.
We’ll always remember Garnett as a true competitor, a mentor, and as one of the league’s truest OGs – no matter how ridiculous he sounded at times. With him announcing his retirement on Friday through Instagram, it officially marks an end of an era with the 40-year-old hanging up his sneakers. He once yelled “Anything Is Possible” after winning his 1st Championship, but it seems impossible to ever imagine a league without Kevin Garnett.
All stats for this article are from Basketball-Reference.com
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