To Kelly Dwyer: Why KG is really hated

As many of you know, I've never hidden the fact that Kevin Garnett is my favorite player and has been since the last millenium.  Thus, it's not surprising that I didn't particularly enjoy Dwyer's article on why he is hated.  The thing is, as a writer myself, what irks me most about Dwyer's article isn't the conclusion (it's pretty much a fact that Garnett is more hated now than ever before), it's the laziness of Dwyer's reasoning and analysis.  He essentially wrote an article that I could have taken from any of the many message board posters on any NBA board that starts off "I used to like KG, but now he's a douche...".  And for a message board post, that's fine.  But for someone like Dwyer, who purports to be an analytical writer on a mainstream outlet, it's very unsatisfying.  It's like if he wrote an article saying that the Lakers were a great team because Kobe scores a lot of points.  Yes, there are some hints of truth in there, but the actual story goes much deeper and if you take that extra step you get (to me) a more realistic conclusion.

My take on why KG is now hated?  I'll give you a one-line answer, then I'll develop it.  The short answer is: Garnett is unpopular because he angered some of the most rabid fan bases in basketball, and didn't have a strong enough fan base of his own to stem the tide.  It's that simple.  But for a more detailed look at how I got here, let's start by showing where Dwyer's piece comes up short then we can get more into what actually has happened in the last two years.

My synopsis of Dwyer's article is that Garnett has always had "Perpetual displays of emotion and rage and over-wrought warrior-isms", but that he does it more now than ever before because he's now too old to make the impact that he used to.  The thing is, I cry BS on the line of reasoning that he does it so much more now.  Dwyer never supports that claim, he simply makes it then cites examples from the last two years for what KG is doing now that is so over the top.  So, let's look at those examples:

* Dwyer cites the Richardson elbow as the last straw, because it will cost KG a playoff game.  But ask yourself, is what KG actually did here that much different than him elbowing Za Za and putting his hands on a ref in the '08 playoffs?  In fact, is it really that different than getting into an elbowing/shoving contest with Anthony Peeler in game 6 of the '04 playoffs?  Answer: no, his actions weren't really different.  In all cases he got heated with another player, exchanged shoves/elbows, then tried to get away when it became clear that an actual suspendable fight was forthcoming.  The difference is, this time he got suspended.  But the action was the same as when he was "in his prime".

* Dwyer cites the somewhat tired "KG trash talks Euros" talking point, but again he acts as though it's new.  This line of criticism is actually an offshoot of the "KG doesn't like white people" line that some of his detractors used in Minnesota, stemming from his fights with Wally Szczerbiak, Rick Rickert and his altercation with Joel Przybilla where he called Joel a "fake thug".  But the point is that this criticism isn't in any way new or unique to KG's current situation, as Dwyer would suggest.

 * Dwyer criticizes KG for trash-talking from the bench in last year's playoffs, "an embarrassing display" he called it.  But Garnett has never wanted to sit on the bench when hurt in his entire CAREER, for this EXACT reason.  He's always said that he gets too over-the-top on the bench, that he would be a distraction, and for that reason he preferred to watch in the locker room.  But there was a groundswell of criticism when KG WASN'T on the bench, so he was out there expressly to quiet those grumbles.  But again, the point is that Garnett's behavior wasn't different...he's the same guy that never wanted to sit on the bench when hurt his whole career.

* Finally, Dwyer calls KG on making Big Baby cry.  This was the weakest criticism, to me, because to most that follow the team this was considered a GOOD thing.  An example of strong leadership, as Baby was being immature, KG called him (and the other subs) on their lack of discipline/effort, Baby cried, and hopefully grew from it.

The ultimate point is: none of Dwyer's reasoning stands up.  Garnett isn't doing anything new, he isn't doing much more of it than he always has, and he isn't being any more extreme now than he ever has.  You might hate Garnett for those reasons, but if so it's not because he's just started doing them the way that Dwyer suggests.  This all goes back to my initial point: this article was just lazy.  But if I'm going to criticize Dwyer, I need to be willing to put out my own reasoning for why Garnett is now hated.  There are 3 main parts:

1. Garnett doesn't fit the superstar narrative.  He never did, really.  Over the last 30 years we've been taught that the superstars are usually perimeter players, very exciting, more offense than defense, and they lead their teams to titles.  Tim Duncan also never fit the narrative because he, like Garnett, dominated defensively as much as offensively and he didn't play the glamour perimeter positions.  But Duncan won titles, so even if he didn't fit he had to be respected.  But he was never really loved, either, by any that weren't Spurs fans.  He doesn't have the personal charisma or play for a large enough fanbase to engender massive adulation, but he also doesn't make waves so he doesn't engender hatred either.  Kobe Bryant fit the superstar narrative to a T and plays for one of the glamour franchises, so even though he has more polarizing negatives than Garnett he also has lots of fans among both the rabid and the casual fans because his story fits the narrative.  Garnett doesn't fit, though.  His impact is most similar to Duncan's, but his team never won in his first 12 years.  His dominance only showed up in the geeky advanced stats, which are still easily dismissible if they don't agree with common perception.  Even when he was the best player on the '08 championship Celtics (and according to many advanced stats arguably the best player in the NBA), he didn't receive the due that most legendary players would have in that circumstance.  Some of that is due to reason 2 below, but a lot of it is because he had never fit the mold of a legendary superstar and in Boston he did even less (posting "only" 18 and 9...couldn't be THAT good).  We like our superstars to fit our perceptions.

2. Garnett doesn't have a large natural fan-base.  Players like Duncan, Kobe, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, LeBron...essentially every MVP since 2001, is universally loved by their team's fan base.  They are seen by their team's fans as "their guy", warts and all, and those fans would go to the wall to support their guy.  Garnett, though, was "the guy" for a Minnesota fan base that isn't as large or entrenched as many other teams, he never led them to a title, then he left on somewhat ambiguous terms in a split that left many Wolves fans viewing Garnett like a successful ex-relationship that they tried to move on from.  Fans of his "new" team, the Celtics, LIKE Garnett but this is by-and-large Paul Pierce's city.  And Larry Bird's city.  And Bill Russell's city.   KG, even when he was leading the team to a title in '08, was seen by many Celtics fans as an interloper against the "real" Celtic legends.  Cornbread angered many by comparing him favorably to Bird.  KG's sappy spots with Russell that led to KG/Russell comparisons annoyed others.  And Garnett getting most of the press and regular season accolades for the '08 team irked Pierce fans, who wanted to see their Captain get more due.  All of this combined to make Garnett liked, somewhat accepted, but ultimately more like a step-child than a native son to the Boston faithful.  So unlike other polarizing players, Garnett doesn't have a strong base of support among any fan group to have his back in a dust-up.

3. The rise of the internet/media echo chamber.  As I pointed out before, what Garnett's doing isn't new, but look who he was doing it against when it became a big deal.  The Jose Calderon thing was frankly nothing, a complete non-story...except it was the Raptors, one of the most rabid e-fan bases on the web.  The on-his-knees defense against Bayless was nothing, something that KG had done MANY times before...including the year before, against All Star PF David West with absolutely no fan-fair at all.  But when he did it against the Blazers, another extremely vocal e-fan base, it was another log thrown on the message board fire.  Oh yeah, and all of this hit the fan in '09, the very year after KG's Celtics beat the Lakers (the third of the huge e-fan bases, who have since taken many shots at both KG and Pierce).  The result was a huge positive-feedback loop of negative Garnett energy on the message boards, which seeped into the blogosphere, and when ESPN's blogmaster Henry Abbott picked it up it then moved into the mainstream media.  Reporters noted it, and started asking other players about it.  Suddenly, every time that Garnett does any of the things that he's always done it is now newsworthy, complete with Sportscenter highlights and PTI discussions on the subject.  Essentially, what was once considered no big deal has now become one of the defining pieces of Garnett's media narrative.  Which isn't good.

Now, put those 3 things together with a Garnett that even less fits the narrative of a superstar.  Now, the ONLY folks that argue that he's still among the best are those that (like me) are both big fans AND big advanced stats aficionados.  To everyone else he is at best a pretty good team contributor and at worst a glorified role player.  So KG's narrative is now that of a declined player who increasingly uses vitriol to try to make up for lost talent.  That's the narrative that Dwyer espouses in his article.  But the reality of the situation is that Garnett is the same person that he's always been on the court.  He hasn't changed.  But his perception has, and in this perception-driven society eventually your narrative becomes who you are.  And when the more negative parts of his current narrative were being decided, there were legions of angry fans pushing in one direction and not enough of his supporters to  stem the tide.

Essentially, the man who was once king of the Wolves no longer has that big of a pack.  And he's not been afraid to take on the world.  And that combination is why, to me, Garnett is now one of the more hated players in the NBA.  Which is a shame.

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