Doug West, Sam Mitchell, Poo Richardson, Isaiah Rider. Names ring a bell? Probably not unless you were a fan of the expansion Timberwolves from 1989-1995. They were about the best the team could offer up and weren’t really much to root for.
But in 1995 that all changed. They drafted an impossibly skinny kid from some military school in South Carolina with a slightly checkered history and endless potential. Folks said he ran like Jordan, glided like Drexler, and had the makings of a genuine jump shot. Oh, and he would toss that weak jumper into the second row.
12-year-old me was intrigued. I wanted to like basketball and just needed a reason. Maybe this Kevin Garnett kid, THE Kid, was it.
For the rest of my junior high, high school, and college years he absolutely was. Kevin Garnett taught me to love basketball. He taught me to really love basketball, to love the spectacular and the sublime, to love highlights and explosions, to love the subtleties of the game, to love teamwork and unselfishness, to love defense, to love passion and energy, to love in spite of disappointment. He embodied all of those things.
Kevin Garnett was the original Lebron. The current one is the finished and better product, but KG was the prototype. He was positionless because he could do everything and do it better than the guys who actually played the positions. He was so unselfish that he was criticized for it. He could score in bunches. He practically combusted with passion and energy. He was unlike any other player in the league. He was one of those players that pundits and analysts compare other guys to but they never compare him to anyone. He dominated the defensive end – like really dominated – like made Wally-freaking-Sczerbiak a palatable player at that end of the floor dominated. He dragged garbage rosters to the playoffs year after year only to be defeated by better teams. And the moment he had real talent around him he went to the conference finals and later on to win a championship.
I wasn’t heart broken when KG was traded from the Timberwolves to the Celtics because I knew it had to happen. He deserved better, and I wanted better for him. Yes he was the highest paid basketball player in the league but he had earned every penny for the Wolves. Without him they were a non-entity. So when he won a title with Boston I cheered. I may have teared up a little, hard to say since that was a few years ago.
Then he came back to Minnesota. He wasn’t the same KG. He wasn’t THE Kid. He was old enough to be that kid’s dad. But he was back! And he looked right in that wolves uniform. He popped a few jumpers, coached up his teammates on defense, and even dunked on Blake Griffin for old time’s sake.
And now he is leaving the league for good.
Players retire all the time. But this is the only time a player will retire who made me, made me, love basketball. KG made basketball real in Minnesota. He made tens of thousands of kids love basketball and just as many adults. He embraced Minnesota and Minnesota embraced him; not many athletes do that.
Waving goodbye to a childhood hero is a unique feeling, equal parts happy memory and somber reality (reality being: we are old now). I am thankful I got watch KG. I am thankful my daughters got to see him play, just for a few minutes last Christmas. Some day they’ll be able to say they saw a hall of famer, a one-of-a-kind player even if the seats were bad and they barely remember.
The NBA will miss KG, but not as much as Timberwolves fans. He won’t be duplicated nor will he be forgotten. Thanks for teaching us, for making us, love basketball, KG.
Now go to that YMCA in Malibu and taunt some old men in knee braces.