Bumped to the front page. Great job Big Ticket! -Green17
Tonight KG makes his return to the Target Center. To a building that had millions of fans go through the turnstyles during 12 memorable years, almost invariably to see one man above all else. To a state whose basketball interest and livelihood mostly lied in the palm of his hands. KG returns dawning a new jersey, new teammates, and with a new type of passion and outward expression of emotion that Wolves fans painfully watched slowly drain from his face starting in early 2005. Yet as far as most Minnesotans and transplanted Timberwolves fans are concerned.... Kevin Garnett is still ours.
I've spent a lot of time trying to imagine a scenario that can put Boston fans, or any fan, in the correct mindset to understand what Kevin Garnett meant to the Timberwolves and Minnesota basketball. Try as I may, I really couldn't come up with anything. One of the best examples is well known to Bostonians - Ray Bourque. The Bruins great gave 21 good years to the city of Boston, but all without that elusive Stanley Cup. When he won a title with Colorado, Bruins fans everywhere surely rejoiced and were thrilled for him. This is much like the sentiment in Minnesota when KG won a ring last June, except for one key difference. Before Bourque, the Bruins still had 4 titles and several hockey greats to remember. Before KG, the Timberwolves had Luc Longley, Pooh Richardson, Tony Campbell, and an average of 21 wins a season. There was nothing to hang their hat on. As depressed as Celtics fans may have become in 2006-2007, there was still Bird.... Russell.... Red... and what are memories, but thinks to look back on and smile? Memories can get you through some bad times. The Wolves had none. Simply put, Kevin Garnett is not a part of Timberwolves history... he IS Timberwolves history. Michael Jordan with the Bulls, Brady and the Pats, Jeter, Big Papi, Walter Payton... there really is no other star that is so largely responsible for the only good times a franchise ever had.
But it is more than that. The situation that KG came into this league under makes him even more endearing to the Minnesota faithful. KG was a revolutionary, starting a league changing trend of preps-to-pros. People wanted KG to fail. He was supposed to be the rule that proved "this is why you go to college". But he was defiant. Writers and basketball brass across the country clearly did not know who they were dealing with. A supremely athletic, supremely sized, supremely eager kid that gets to play basketball for a living. They thought he would succumb to the lush life and ignore the rigors required to make it in the NBA. What they didn't know was how easy this sounded to him. Bust his butt playing a game that he loves?? Yes please. Kevin Garnett spent his senior year of high school in Chicago's South side, raising his sister without a parent present, working multiple part time jobs to make sure they had food and clothes. And here came some writers that didn't even know him, saying he didn't know how hard basketball would be.... are you kidding? Well Minnesota saw his fire, they saw his passion, and they saw his dedication. They adopted him as their own favorite son and watched him rapidly grow into one of the most dynamic players and personalities in the league. When you are a part of that, even as a fan, you feel some responsibility. "I believed in that guy... I knew he would make it.... I knew he would be great." And when those thoughts are validated, it's a good feeling. KG grew with the franchise and made it something relevant and exciting.
I've never actually lived in Minnesota, but I have ample family there and have visited the state at least a dozen times. It is a classic Midwestern blue collar state. They appreciate hard work and are more than willing to put their athletes on a pedestal when they see it. Kirby Puckett never quit on the baseball field. During his career, he was loved unconditionally... the two World Series titles were just gravy. I never thought another athlete in Minnesota could approach Kirby's iconic status. But then I guess I didn't really know KG all that well early on either. KG's career in Minnesota was surrounded by some other great sporting times. Randy Moss had come in and changed the Vikings. The Twins came out of almost a decade of futility with scrappy, unheralded players and took a stranglehold of the AL Central. Hockey returned with the Wild, who gave their fans a memorable playoff run early in their existence. But still, above all this, was KG. Moss and Pepp are gone. A new batch of young guns has replaced Brad Radke, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and crew. The Wild have still never broken through. But we always had KG. Even when the Wolves fell off the face of the earth, there was one truth - win or lose, seeing the Wolves meant seeing an all time great bust his butt as soon as he hit the floor. That is all Minnesotans ever asked. And Kevin Garnett always delivered, and not just on the court. He was never asked to start the 4XL center to put hundreds of computers in Minnesota schools. Nobody forced him to donate millions to Asian tsunami victims, American Katrina victims, and who knows what other charities the ultra-private athlete gave to (seriously, I'll never forget this... ESPN practically threw a parade for Shaq when he donated $500,000 to Katrina victims, but when KG donated $1.2 million nobody even heard about it until Oprah announced it on her show). It wasn't his responsibility to adopt an at-risk Minneapolis team, provide for his loyal friends and family, lavish teammates with gifts and praise, or even play as hard as he did. Yes, he was paid handsomely for it by the Wolves, but what athlete isn't these days? Hard work on the court, tireless work and selflessness off the court?... here's your crown and throne, I hope they're comfy.
So now he is gone. Greener pastures, new teammates, a ring... the whole enchilada. And the pre-KG era Wolves appear to have returned as well. Still waiting for the first 30 win season sans KG, and even the most wishful of thinkers anticipates it after the slow start this year. But tonight he's back. In the Target Center. The building that he put on the map. And no matter what happens, we still feel like he's our own. The way Celtics fans still pine for Al Jefferson, only on steroids, water pills, amphetamines, and dancing to a rock anthem. That is just how much Kevin Garnett meant to Minnesota.