Kevin Garnett missed the final shot of the game yesterday, and it may have ruined his Christmas in the process. Naturally, as one is inclined to do when Christmas is ruined, Garnett tried to take out his frustration on the person who caused the despair. Like when George Bailey shook down Uncle Billy when the latter lost the rest of his company's money in It's a Wonderful Life, Garnett had blown a gasket during the most wonderful time of the year. Bill Walker became the victim in the whole ordeal, as Garnett put his hands to Walker's throat after Walker committed the crime of contesting Garnett's shot, and then saying something about it afterward. According to NBC's Kurt Helin, Garnett may face a fine and suspension, because it is being shown over and over again and as it is to most league offices, the increased exposure makes the "crime" greater than it actually was.I am split with how I feel about this. One half of me, perhaps a more sadistic side that probably needs to be checked out by a licensed physician, really likes the whole incident. It signals that the NBA is back, and that Garnett (as if we would expect any less) cares about it more than anything in the world. He is willing to put his hands to the throat of a mediocre player if that mediocre player dare disrespects his authority. I truly missed things like this when the NBA was nothing more than brief SportsCenter interludes to labor dysfunction, and would rather have this impending hysteria than listen to Chris Broussard talk about whatever false summit was about to "happen".
The flip side of this, is that what Garnett did will become somewhat of a distraction. It was the lead story on Yahoo!'s main page, with the headline "Ugly Incident In NBA's Opening Game". The video (link here) has been embedded on basically every major sports site, with the sentences that preceded it taking the overall tone of "not surprised". Because Garnett has created a villainous persona for himself, this will be played countless times until the league office has had enough, and decides to send a message. That's an extreme scenario, but with what Garnett has become over the past year or so, I wouldn't be surprised.
I don't know if Celtics fans realize this, because I certainly did not notice it right away, but the majority of non-Celtics NBA fans hate Garnett. They despise him, and he is regularly characterized with Ivan the Terrible like tendencies. They see all of Garnett's crimes against humanity, and he is turned into the NBA's version of James Harrison: a player who plays hard with an underlying sense of rage that regularly comes out during game time. When that rage comes out during game time, it is perceived as cruel and the player is a Thug. No matter how bad the incident actually was, the villain label makes that incident take on a life of its own in the court of public opinion.
That is why it angers me when Garnett does things like this. He knows the camera will be on him at all times, so why even put yourself in the position for criticism in the first place? When James Harrison threw the entire upper half of his body at Colt McCoy last week, didn't he know that it would replayed countless times, as people simultaneously remembered all the other things that happened during his career? When Garnett wraps his hands around Bill Walker's neck, NBA fans are immediately associated that action with what Garnett has done in the past.
People could blow this up to Sprewellian levels, which I am kind of surprised hasn't happened yet. The problem I have will all this is that I feel like Garnett is going to turn into a caricature of himself, if that hasn't happened already. He'll be the deranged circus freak that people throw peanuts at to entice anger out of him, and it will probably work. I love Garnett's fire, and the way he motivates his teammates to play. Him making Glen Davis cry on the bench a few years back is still one of the highlights of my young life. But he needs to learn (an amazing thing to say, considering he is a 16-year veteran) how to control that fire, because people will notice when he lashes out. They will point and say things, and the league office will take note.
That said, it's good to have basketball back, no?