Stop me if you've heard these complaints before:
Kevin Garnett cusses too much. He's mean. He's a maniac who offers respect to no opponent. He picks on the small, the weak, and yes, the Europeans, but never picks on people his own size. He is a bully, a nutcase, a psycho. He talks too much junk. He crosses the line.
Why did you all stop me? Because, well, to differing extents, the points are all true. Garnett inarguably has the ability to rub people the wrong way. He will do whatever it takes to earn an edge, even if it means he has to look like the bad guy in media outlets the following day. He will cuss, and beat his chest, and swear at opponents, and call them names you never thought would be uttered on a basketball court, and he will do all those things unrelentingly, and without remorse. But what a lot of people misunderstand about Kevin Garnett is this: he only does all those things to help his team win.
After ingesting every story I can about Garnett and religiously watching him play for three years (I have an addiction), I am comfortable in saying there is another side to Garnett -- one that only comes out after games finish, after a win has been etched on the scoreboard. During basketball games, Garnett becomes a caged pitbull with only one goal: to tear down whatever obstacles stand between he and victory. But afterward, there can be a more respectful Garnett. A Garnett with a heart, a soul, and a caring attitude. A Garnett who no longer needs the tough-guy act, who is no longer focused solely on winning basketball games. A Garnett with compassion.
Yesterday, Garnett offered a rare glimpse at his other side. After the Celtics completed a 105-89 victory against the Denver Nuggets, he ran to the opposite end of the court. He leaned down, into George Karl's ear, and told the Nuggets coach he meant no offense by his "cancer" (or "cancerous") comments directed at Charlie Villanueva. What KG told Villanueva that day, we'll probably never know for sure. It's a classic he-said, she-said scenario.
But we know why he wanted to talk to Karl: Garnett likely heard Karl's response in the papers, and he likely knew the cancer survivor had been hurt by what he thought KG said. Garnett's comments, whatever they really were, were only meant to help him win a basketball game. They weren't meant to offend anybody, and especially a cancer survivor like Karl. Realizing his words had actually hurt someone, Garnett did something he would never do during a basketball game. He showed remorse.
We can dispute Garnett's toughness as a basketball player, but if we're discussing Kevin Garnett's manhood, we should look no further than yesterday. He didn't have to seek out Karl and apologize, or explain the comments, or say whatever he actually told Karl. He had already denied Villanueva's accusations, and that could have been that. Instead, he wanted to ease Karl's mind and regain Karl's respect. (via Jimmy Toscano)
"I just went over, and I know some speculation, and I'm not going to get into it, you all know what I'm talking about," Garnett said. "I went up to him as a man, and what I said is that I had nothing personal toward him or any other cancer patients that are out there struggling, dealing with life situation. I wanted to say that to him, man to man."
Did Garnett's apology (or whatever it was) fix things? Yes, if you consider Karl professing his admiration for Garnett "fixing things." (Boston Herald)
"It was very good," Karl said. "He was a man about it, and I appreciate him taking the time to do it. Kevin is one of my favorite people in this league."
Garnett's contrite actions last night should give you insight into why he behaves so maniacally at times. If you had any doubt before, he's not the cold, ruthless creature he acts like while playing basketball. Once he steps on the hardwood, he's just singularly obsessed with winning, with doing anything -- anything at all -- to help his team come out on top. Even in showing remorse to Karl, Garnett again demonstrated that winning matters most.
"I was going to do it before the game," he told the Boston Herald, "but I (decided) to get the game out of the way, and then approach him."
Does wanting to win necessarily turn into demeaning opponents? No, it doesn't have to. A lot of players yearn to win without calling Villanueva "cancerous," or elbowing Quentin Richardson, or insulting Noah to the point where he addressed his Garnett dislike with the media. But intimidation is how Garnett believes he can optimize his chances of winning, how he sets out to mentally control his opponents. And on the court, winning is truly all he cares about.
Is Garnett right to do the things he does? No, probably not. But I find it difficult to bag on Garnett's tactics when I suspect his only motivation is a "W." Instead, maybe we should stop writing about his in-game incidents as "stains" that will be hard to wash away, and establish his legacy as what it should be: someone who knows no boundaries to his quest for victories.
Or maybe, in summarizing Garnett's behavior, it's best to end with a question:
In the cutthroat world of professional sports, is there such a thing as too competitive?