Kevin Garnett's Career
Kevin Garnett's Blood, Sweat and Tears Are More Than Just Boston Celtics Green
This is what it's like to be Kevin Garnett, a living, breathing legend who's still active in the NBA.
You practice. You watch film. You meet the media. You suit up for the 17-time league-champion Boston Celtics. You get yourself hyped up to face Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the 16-time champion Los Angeles Lakers. You talk some trash. You grab a rebound. You contest a shot. You score your 25,000th point.
You win the game by 21 points. You slough off your latest accomplishment (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com):
First priority was the Lakers tonight. So I didn't even notice [the milestone's approach] until, I think, somebody said it to me in passing [Wednesday] night, and it kind of went in one ear and out the other.
Then you speak humbly of what it means, but in a much broader context:
I'm sure someday when I fall back and I'm rocking in a rocking chair having a cigar or something and thinking about what I've done, I'm sure it'll make some sense to me. But I told Doc when I came in here, to all the coaches and ex-players and current players and systems and this great organization I play for, I'm more than honored. Because without the systems and the coaches and, obviously, the players that put you in a position to score the basketball, none of this would be possible.
I try to keep my body up and pieced together, but there's so many different components that go into some of the individual wars, and I'd just like to, obviously, say I'm more than honored, but thank you, to all the ones that you guys don't see. So I guess all that said and done, I'm more than flattered and honored.
Go to work. Etch your name into the basketball history books just a bit more. Repeat.
That's what happens when you're Kevin Garnett. You're more than halfway through your 18th season and your resume is that of not only a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the greatest of the trans-Michael Jordan generation, but also of a top-15 (if not top-10) player of all time.
Not even the shadows cast by contemporaries like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan can completely obscure Garnett's accomplishments, nor should they. He's the only player in NBA history to pile up 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks.
Nine All-NBA selections, 12 All-Defensive honors, 15 trips to the All-Star Game, a regular-season MVP, an All-Star MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year award, an Olympic gold medal and an NBA title, even in combination, can only begin to describe a journey that stretches from South Carolina to the south side of Chicago to Minneapolis to Boston.
And the man—whose competitive streak was matched (and, perhaps, exceeded) only by his fierce sense of loyalty—who walked every step of that journey.
The Kid, The Pioneer
Long before Kevin Garnett could even think about 25,000 points, he was busy coming up as "The Kid" in South Carolina. A native of Greenville, Garnett wound up in Mauldin, South Carolina, at the age of 12 when his mother, Shirley, remarried and moved the family there.
It was at Mauldin High School that KG first emerged as a force to be reckoned with. His size, skill and athleticism set him apart from peers and allowed him to dominate the competition at a young age. At the end of his junior year, Garnett was named South Carolina's Mr. Basketball, becoming the first-ever underclassman to earn the honor.
But, during the final week of the school year, Garnett was charged with second-degree lynching for merely being within the vicinity of a racially charged fight between white and black students at Mauldin. He managed to get the charge dropped via pre-trial intervention, but the damage to KG's comfort and reputation in South Carolina had already been done.
By the following fall, Garnett, along with his mother and sister, had moved to Chicago to spend his senior year at Farragut Career Academy in Chicago. He averaged better than 25 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and six blocks per game that year on the way to being pegged as Illinois' Mr. Basketball and the 1995 National High School Player of the Year by USA Today.
KG's exploits landed him a trip to the 1995 McDonald's All-American Game in St. Louis. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of an event that also featured future NBA All-Stars Vince Carter and Stephon Marbury, thanks to a line of 18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Unlike the rest of the participants, though, Garnett wasn't ticketed for a celebrated career at the collegiate level. He struggled to string together a qualifying score on either the SAT or the ACT before finally deciding to do what nobody had done since Spencer Haywood in 1975—jump straight from preps to pros.
The Minnesota Timberwolves subsequently made Garnett the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA draft, and thus began one of the most notable careers the game has ever seen.
A Small Start For The Big Ticket
Eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, one rebound, one assist and one personal foul in 16 minutes.
That was the line from KG's NBA debut in 1995 during a 95-86 loss in Sacramento.
Nothing to write home about, to be sure. Through his first 38 games as a pro, the teenaged Garnett managed just one start while averaging 6.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 19.5 minutes per game.
But once Flip Saunders settled in as Bill Blair's replacement as the head coach and Garnett got the hang of things a bit, it was off to the races. Over his final 42 games (all starts), KG upped his per-game numbers to 14.1 points (on 53.3 percent shooting) with 8.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals in 36.9 minutes.
For his overall efforts, Garnett was named to the All-Rookie second team, alongside Rasheed Wallace, Tyus Edney, Brent Barry and Bryant "Big Country" Reeves.
Garnett didn't waste any time translating his rookie season success into a quantum leap toward superstardom. With star rookie Stephon Marbury by his side, KG led the T-Wolves to their first playoff appearance in franchise history in 1997. They were summarily swept out of the first round by Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets.
Along the way, Garnett starred in his first commercial for the NBA...
And earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, becoming the second-youngest to ever do so. Garnett tallied six points, nine rebounds, an assist and a block in 18 minutes off the bench for the Western Conference in a 132-120 loss to the Eastern Conference.
He finished the season averaging 17 points, eight rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.4 steals...as a 20-year-old.
The Call to Superstardom
For his stellar efforts, Garnett was rewarded with a six-year, $126-million contract extension—the richest in pro sports history. The deal was later seen as one of the flash points leading up to the lockout that shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games.
To his credit, KG did plenty to earn his upgraded take. He led the T-Wolves to their first winning record in the regular season (45-37) in franchise history while pouring in 18.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.7 steals.
The Big Ticket also led Minny to its first two playoff wins, albeit in a series loss to the Seattle SuperSonics. In the deciding Game 5, Garnett tallied nearly as many turnovers (10) as points (seven) and rebounds (four) combined. Thus began concerns that, perhaps, KG wasn't particularly "clutch."
The T-Wolves, as a whole, took a sizable step backward during the lockout-shortened season in 1999. They finished 25-25—good enough for eighth in the West—and stumbled into strife after general manager Kevin McHale traded Stephon Marbury to the New Jersey Nets for Terrell Brandon.
Garnett, though, continued along his own upward trend. He established new career highs in points (20.8), rebounds (10.4) and assists (4.3) on the way to his first-ever All-NBA selection at season's end, garnering third-team honors.
And he was hardly done then. The next season, KG became just the ninth player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists when he turned in a sterling line of 22.9/11.8/5.0 for a 50-win T-Wolves team that, once again, was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. That year, Garnett also scored his 5,000th career point and logged his first appearance on the All-NBA and All-Defensive first teams.
As Many Warning Signs as Lakes
Garnett's hopes for achieving bigger and better things in Minnesota took a tragic turn shortly thereafter. On May 30th, 2000, Malik Sealy, Garnett's teammate and close friend, was killed by a drunk driver on the way back from KG's birthday party in downtown Minneapolis. Sealy was not wearing a seat belt at the time.
The T-Wolves took another hit over the summer when the NBA discovered that the team had been embroiled in a salary cap-tampering scandal involving former No. 1-overall pick Joe Smith. The league fined the T-Wolves $3.5 million, suspended Kevin McHale for one year and, most damningly, took away five first-round picks (though two were eventually given back).
None of that could quite keep Garnett from dominating on the court. He turned in another 20-10-5 season in 2000-01, becoming just the seventh player in basketball history to do multiple times in a career. Garnett also became the leading scorer in franchise history that November, against the Philadelphia 76ers, and scooted past the 8,000-point (vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers) and 4,000-rebound (vs. the Denver Nuggets) plateaus in March of 2001.
In the end, another year meant more All-NBA and All-Defensive honors...and another first-round playoff exit, this time at the hands of archrival Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
The same could be said of Garnett's 2001-02 season. His numbers (21.2 points, 12.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals) were stellar enough to once again earn All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive distinction. But the end result (i.e. a 50-win season and a first-round loss, this time to the Dallas Mavericks via sweep) was all too familiar.
The Tip-Top as a T-Wolf
It wasn't until the 2002-03 campaign, though, that Kevin Garnett truly achieved transcendence—on an individual level, anyway. He scored his 10,000th point on opening night during a win over the Nuggets, grabbed his 6,000th rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks and notched his 1,000th block opposite the Cleveland Cavaliers, both in February.
Garnett also earned All-Star MVP honors with his 37-point, nine-rebound, five-steal, three-assist, one-block performance in Atlanta, and finished as the runner-up in the races for both the league MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year. Along the way, KG established new career bests in points (23), rebounds (13.4), assists (6.0), minutes (40.5) and field goal percentage (.502), becoming the first player since Larry Bird in 1989-90 to finish in the top 15 in points, rebounds and assists.
In the bigger picture, Garnett guided the T-Wolves to a franchise-record 51 wins...and another first-round playoff exit (Minny's seventh in a row), this time opposite the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kevin McHale spent the following offseason revamping the T-Wolves roster in anticipation of a title run. He traded for Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell and signed a slew of valuable role players, including Fred Hoiberg and Trenton Hassell.
The result? Minnesota not only escaped the first round, but also pushed the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals after winning 58 games during the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed.
Of course, KG had plenty to do with that. All he did was pile up 24.2 points, a league-best 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals. He became the 17th player in NBA history with 13,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists during a game against the Nuggets in March.
For his efforts, Garnett was named the league MVP and was the only player voted unanimously to the All-NBA first team that year. The T-Wolves, though, were ultimately undone by a hip injury to Sam Cassell and a decidedly mixed performance by Garnett (22 points, 17 rebounds, eight turnovers, six fouls) in Game 6 of the conference finals.
The Lost Years
KG never appeared in the playoffs with the Timberwolves after that, even as he continued to rack up lines on his Hall of Fame resume.
The 2004-05 season was particularly turbulent for the entire organization. The campaign was derailed by contract disputes involving Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Troy Hudson. Long-time head coach Flip Saunders was fired midseason and replaced by Kevin McHale on an interim basis. And though the T-Wolves finished with a record of 44-38, they fell one game shy of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Garnett, for his part, led the league in rebounding for the second year running and became the first player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in six consecutive seasons. He also surpassed the 15,000-point mark, thanks in no small part to a career-high 47-point explosion against the Phoenix Suns in January of 2005.
Things went from bad to worse for KG and the T-Wolves in the year that followed. The summer of 2005 saw McHale hire rookie head coach Dwane Casey to take over on the bench and trade Sam Cassell and a future first-round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers.
It wasn't long before the season was essentially lost, lending McHale license to strip Minny's roster. Most notably, he sent Wally Szczerbiak to the Boston Celtics as part of a deal that brought back Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks and Mark Blount to the Target Center. All told, the T-Wolves tumbled to a record of 33-49, easily their worst since KG's rookie season.
And all Garnett did was lead the league in rebounding (again) and set a new career-high in field goal percentage (.526). He made his seventh straight appearance on an All-Defensive team, but saw his streaks of All-NBA nods (seven) and consecutive games played (351) snapped.
Naturally, the situation in Minny only deteriorated further thereafter. In June, the T-Wolves selected Brandon Roy, the eventual Rookie of the Year, with the sixth pick in the 2006 NBA draft, but promptly swapped him to the Portland Trail Blazers for Randy Foye's rights.
Minny went on to miss the playoffs once again with a record of 32-50. Garnett, though, led the league in rebounding for the fourth straight season, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Dennis Rodman as the only players to ever accomplish such a feat. He also paced the T-Wolves in every major statistical category except for assists, in which he finished second behind Ricky Davis.
As far as milestones are concerned, Garnett topped 19,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists and 1,500 blocks.
The Boston Three Party
On July 31, 2007, with Minny well on its way to difficult times, Kevin McHale mercifully moved Garnett to the Boston Celtics (McHale's old club) for a package of five players and two draft picks—the most assets any team has ever surrendered in exchange for a single player in NBA history. The deal came mere weeks after the C's had acquired Ray Allen and rookie Glen Davis from the Seattle SuperSonics.
And with that, the Celtics were off and running. Garnett tallied 22 points and 20 rebounds in his Boston debut, a 103-83 thrashing of the Washington Wizards. That was the first of a league-high 66 wins the C's scored that season.
Garnett became the first Celtics player ever to lead fan balloting for the NBA All-Star Game, earned Defensive Player of the Year honors and made a triumphant return to the All-NBA and All-Defensive first teams. His numbers declined nearly across the board, though he shot a career-high 53.9 percent from the field while filling a more particular role in Boston, and still turned in his 20,000th point.
Best of all, Garnett played a pivotal part in the Celtics' run to their 17th title in franchise history and first since the days of Bird, McHale and Robert Parish in 1986. He turned in a masterful performance during the deciding Game 6 against the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, piling up 26 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block in a 39-point drubbing.
Indeed, anything is possible.
Garnett's second season in Boston hardly went so smoothly. He missed a career-high 25 games and the entirety of the 2009 playoffs with a knee strain that eventually morphed into a knee sprain.
Prior to the injury, KG became the youngest person in NBA history to play his 1,000th game, doing so at the age of 32 years and 165 days, and was picked to play in his 12th straight All-Star Game.
The milestones kept coming in 2009-10, even as Garnett continued to struggle with injuries. He became the youngest to play 40,000 minutes and made his 13th straight All-Star Game, though he failed to maintain an 11-year streak of making at least one All-NBA or All-Defensive squad.
With KG's help, the No. 4 seed C's made a surprising run to the 2010 NBA Finals, upending the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic along the way. They pushed the Lakers to seven games in the Finals, but ultimately fell short of the franchise's 18th title. Garnett picked up 17 points and four blocks but managed just three rebounds in the defeat.
Boston appeared poised for another run to the Finals in 2010-11. The C's won 23 of their first 26 games before Garnett re-injured his right knee in December and were run out of the playoffs by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat in the second round.
Despite the struggles, KG returned to the All Defensive team at season's end and extended his All-Star streak to 14 in a row.
That streak came to an end during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, when both Garnett and Tim Duncan were left out of the festivities in Orlando. To his credit, KG looked much more like the KG of old during yet another miraculous postseason run. Despite injuries up and down the roster, the Celtics came agonizingly close to another Finals appearance, taking the eventual-champion Heat to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Garnett was hardly at his finest during Games 6 and 7, when the C's had their chances to close out the series. He averaged 13 points and six rebounds between those two contests.
A Fantastic Finale?
Rather than hang up his cleats and call it a career after the campaign, KG re-upped with the Celtics for three years and $34 million. The team stumbled through the first half of 2012-13, but has since picked up the pace in the absence of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
That includes Garnett. He'll start for the East at the 2013 All-Star Game in Houston. His recent run of play certainly merits inclusion; he's averaged 17.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks in just 32.3 minutes per game during Boston's 7-0 Rondo-less streak.
That includes his 25,000th point—a remarkable milestone, to say the least, but one that falls far short of quantifying the depth and breadth of Kevin Garnett's true greatness.