Why I am a KG fan...

By popular request, this is being added to the front page from the FanPosts section. Enjoy! - Jeff

...and why I think some Celtics fans are missing what they are witnessing.  First off, I'll tell you from jump that this is going to be long.  And personal.  And perhaps even insulting to some who may read this.  That's not my intent, but it is what it is.  You can only say "I'm right and you're wrong" so politely, and when it comes to Kevin Garnett I'm right.  And if his being a "jerk", as our blog chief eloquently but incorrectly deemed him yesterday, is in any way part of KG's "story" to're wrong.

My impression from around Celtic nation is that many spent years hearing about Garnett in Minnesota, good and bad, without really following him.  They may have seen him a few times a year, enough to get an impression but not enough to truly lock in.  Most knew he had once been the MVP of the league, but that he’d only been out of the first round of the playoffs once in his Minnesota career.  That at one point he was often compared to Tim Duncan, but that he hadn’t even made the playoffs in his last few years before the trade.  People knew he was supposed to be an exciting player, a bit over the top and that he maybe could help the Celtics win more…but his price tag was the promising Al Jefferson, and Garnett was already in his 30s so he’d better do something quickly to prove he was worth it.

And that’s cool.

When Garnett got here, he did help the Celtics win.  Celtics nation recognizes that he was an important part of bringing #17 to Boston.  That his defense is elite and his offense is pretty good too…though too jump-shot based.  That he is fiery and “intense” on the court…though some of his antics can be a bit past the line.  On the whole, the general sentiment that I get on the various basketball boards I peruse is that Celtic nation appreciates Garnett, thinks he’s important, and that the good generally outweighs the bad so even though he’s a jerk, he’s “our Jerk”.  He’s like our Laimbeer, our Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, our goon (though of course not in the REAL sense, because we all know he wouldn’t get away with his antics in the real-man 80s) but he’s effective as long as he toes the line.  And he can help us to #18 so it’s a good thing he wears Green (or else we wouldn’t like him very much).  There’s only one problem with this general mindset…

It utterly, completely and wildly misses the point about Kevin Garnett.

I can understand that mindset, in all of its variations from the adamant “Garnett is really a 2nd option/overrated/fake intense but I’m glad he’s on our team” posters that I read regularly on here up to the knowledgeable, well-written “Garnett is a Hall-of-Fame player, overjoyed he’s here but he’s not really THAT special because of the rich Celtics history and I’m able to cheer for him while recognizing his short-comings” type posts like Jeff’s piece from yesterday. Based upon just what you’ve seen of Garnett in Boston and the type of coverage that he currently receives, that mindset is supportable.

But here’s the thing.  If Kevin Garnett had been drafted to the Celtics in 1995 and had been here every since, he would be held among Celtics fans to an esteem that would make even LA’s Kobe-love seem paltry.  And not just because of how good he was, though of course that would help.  I don’t know Garnett personally, but I’ve followed his professional career with whatever personal life bleeds over for the past 11 years as in-depth as any sports fan could.  And I can honestly say that…the best way to put it succinctly in a way to be understood here is that Garnett is the basketball player that gives me the hope that the “Celtics way” of playing can survive in the post-Jordan era.  Jordan almost killed it, and now Kobe and LeBron are trying with all of their might to stamp out the embers.  But Garnett, along with Tim Duncan, have been the two players keeping good, team-first basketball at the forefront in this generation.

I’m not a good enough writer to fully recreate the experience of following Garnett for almost a decade before he put on Green, and even if I were no one would have the patience to read how many words such an undertaking would require.  But let me at least tell you why he’s my favorite player.

I’m a life-long NBA fan without a home team, so generally I find a player that I like and follow their team.  I went to college in the mid ‘90s, and with the busy college life (pre internet explosion and pre-DirecTV boom) I wasn’t able to follow the NBA that closely for a few years.  Plus, I hadn’t had a true favorite player since Ron Harper got traded from the Cavs (where I could listen to them play on the radio) to the Clippers (who I couldn’t watch, ever) in 1990, so outside of generally following the league there wasn’t much to keep me fully focused on the NBA.

Then, in 1999, a funny thing happened.  I was in the library waiting for a friend, and I messed around and signed up for a fantasy GM basketball league where you got a certain amount of money and could spend it daily on whatever player you wanted.  I had never played fantasy sports before, and I got HOOKED.  I got so hooked that I went out and got DirecTV so I could follow the key players.  And the most important player on my team was this young guy named Kevin Garnett, who seemed to fill it up EVERY night.

I had been familiar with Garnett for years.  He had finished high school the same year that I did, and I remember the buzz when he jumped straight to the pros.  Plus, my first year at Georgia Tech was also Stephon Marbury's only year there and he electrified the campus, so when he went to the pros I followed him to the Wolves and his exciting 2-piece combo with Garnett.  I remember when Garnett's contract was blamed for the lockout, and I had even gravitated to Garnett's side of the "Duncan or Garnett?" debate that was starting to get popular at the time.  So I knew who Garnett was.  But it wasn't until '99 that I really started watching KG play with any regularity.

And as soon as I started paying attention, I became a fan.  For one thing, his game was exciting.  A 7-footer that could handle the ball like a wing, played defense like a mad man, would dunk on anyone and could even step back for the three?  That was enough to make my best friend, who was playing D-1 ball at the time, declare that Garnett was the best player in the NBA.  But that wasn't why I became a fan.

Then, there was the infectious joy and enthusiasm that Garnett played with.  They called him "The Kid" in those days, and that was how he a big kid that had just eaten a bag of sugar with a spoon.  He was bouncing off the walls, defending point guards on the perimeter then sprinting down to block the center’s shot, then grabbing the rebound and turning right around and bringing it up the court.  He was getting fired up on defense, getting on his knees (yes, even then), smacking the floor to show he was ready.  He played for a team called the Wolves, and he would howl in games.  He'd make a big play and flash a huge grin, or jump on the scorers table, or pound his chest and scream.  He took a small expansion team with no history and made them FUN.  But that wasn't why I became a fan, either.

Then, there was the way he played the game.  In a basketball world saturated with Michael Jordan and Jordan wannabees, it was refreshing to see a player that played more like the Magic and Bird that I remembered from my childhood.  Garnett was the most unselfish star player I had seen in years, maybe ever.  He always made the extra pass that set up the good shot for his teammates.  He stood up for and defended his smaller teammates when they got knocked down.  He would make it a point to high-five anyone who did anything remotely well on his team, and he outright made the rest of his teammates get into the habit of dapping up the free throw shooter after the first shot.  He was a throw-back player, who played "the right way" despite his electric talent and had an obvious passion for the game to boot.  But that STILL wasn't what made me a fan.

No, what made me Kevin Garnett fan was that he played absolutely every minute of every game like his team was down 1 point in game 7 of the NBA Finals and he had to will them to victory.

It.  Was.  Amazing.

In recent years it has become an overused expression to call Garnett "intense", but that moniker hadn't been placed on him at the time.  Didn't matter.  You didn't need anyone to tell you that Garnett was intense...all you had to do was watch a single Wolves game.  It didn't matter what time of year it was, who the game was against, whether the Wolves were much better or much worse than their didn't matter.  Garnett went all out, EVERY game.

THAT was what first made me become a Kevin Garnett fan.

When I was a kid my mom would watch all of my basketball games, and she always used to tell me that she didn't care if my team won or lost.  She didn't care how many points I had.  She didn't care whether I was the star, or if I barely got into the game.  ALL she cared about was that if I DID get in the game, I better hustle and scratch and strain and just leave everything I had out there.  If I did that, she was happy.  No matter what else the outcome.  When I watched Garnett play I always thought of my mom.  I knew she’d be proud of his game.

In short, KG played like I would have hoped that I would have played if I had been 7-feet tall.

And because I became a Garnett fan in '99 I was there to see the lion share of the obstacles that he had to overcome in his professional life.  I remember when Wolves' owner Glen Taylor signed the illegal Joe Smith contract from what he thought may have been his own death bed, and when he got caught David Stern took away 5 1st round draft picks.  I remember learning about the new basketball CBA after the lockout and realizing that since they didn't grandfather in previously signed contracts, Garnett's huge deal meant the Wolves also couldn't sign great free agents.  I remember how shell-shocked the Wolves organization and fans still were in the aftermath of Stephon Marbury forcing his way out of town.  How the result of these three things was that there was no real way for the Wolves to bring in any kind of legitimate talent to play with Garnett, which meant that while Duncan got to play with David Robinson and Shaq got to play with Kobe, Garnett was going to have to compete with them with Wally Szczerbiak as his best teammate.

And I remember when the perception of the basketball world started turning against him.

Every year Garnett would drag a not-so-talented team to the playoffs, only to lose to much, MUCH better teams in the postseason.  From 1997 - 2004 the Wolves lost in the postseason to SIX different teams that had at least TWO MVPs (past, present or future) that were named All Stars in that particular year.  During those 8 years, Garnett never even had an All NBA teammate when his team was put fact, he only ever had 2 teammates even make an All Star team next to him when his team was eliminated.  Now, go back and reconsider...SIX teams with TWO MVPs...that rarely ever happens in NBA history even once, let alone 6 years out of 8 (and the other 2 years KG's Wolves lost to the 61-win Sonics and the 59-win Trail Blazers that were an epic Game 7 choke against Shaq/Kobe away from the title).  In short, Garnett's Wolves were MASSIVELY outgunned in literally every single playoff series that they ever lost, on a level never before matched in NBA history.

But it didn't matter.

All that mattered was that Garnett couldn't get his team past the first round.  And every year he couldn't, more people turned against him. Garnett got crucified for passing on a contested double-teamed jump shot to spoon-feed a teammate for a bunny at the end of a Spurs playoff game...but the teammate missed the chippy, and despite the fact that trying to shoot through a Duncan/Robinson double is an extremely low percentage shot the buzz began that maybe Garnett was a choker in crunchtime.  When KG had 2 triple-doubles in 4 games against those loaded Blazers in 2000 he was criticized again for passing too much, that his 9 assists per game didn't make up for him not scoring in the 20s.  Garnett's childhood hero Magic Johnson weighed in against him, saying that he was playing too unselfishly and that he had to start shooting more.

And as more and more folks questioned whether KG was really a winner, he continued to face adversity.  One of Garnett's best friends and childhood idols, teammate Malik Sealy, died in a car accident with a drunk driver WHILE HE WAS LEAVING GARNETT'S HOUSE after KG's birthday party.  Arguably his best teammate, Terrell Brandon, had his career cut short by knee injuries in the midst of what had been Garnett's and the Wolves' best season to date.  That season ended at the hands of a Mavs sweep, again courtesy of a team with 2 MVPs...Nowitzki and Nash.

In 2002-03 Garnett made the leap.  Over the next few years he became the best player in the NBA, filling the box score in ways that no power forward ever has.  He broke the +/- scale, posting impact numbers that no player in this generation has touched (or in many cases even come close to) in the decade since they’ve been keeping the stats.  He put up huge performances on the big stage but ultimately bad luck, poorly timed injuries and front office incompetence ended his run in Minnesota.  I won’t clutter this already long post with a detailed account of his last few years in Minnesota, but it was a comedy of errors of epic proportions.  I often say that Garnett’s years in Minnesota were like a giant science experiment…what would happen if you took the best player in the world and put him on the worst team in the league and made sure it stayed that way no matter what the player did.  Well, after following Garnett’s career we have an answer to that question.

The 2007-08 season was like a basketball dream for me.  I personally had never had the team that I pull for win a title in the NBA or the NFL, my 2 favorite sports, so the whole ride was crazy.  The team was so likeable.  They were team-first.  Defense-first.  Scrappy.  Had to go through a gauntlet of great players and teams in the playoffs, about as hard a path as could be devised that year.  Mike Gorman once said that a team takes on the personality and look of it’s best player, and the 07-08 Celtics looked from top-to-bottom like Kevin Garnett.  It was finally the payoff on what had been such a hard-luck run.  My friends called me when the Celtics won and said they almost cried for me.  Garnett’s whole “Anything is Possibbbbbbbbbbbbble!!!” speech made sense to me.  It was finally the proof of what Garnett could do on a team with reasonable talent, even slightly past his prime.  It was finally to be his coronation into the NBA pantheon that had already welcomed Shaq and Duncan and was trying its best to force Kobe through the doors.

Instead…the aftermath was just…“nice”.  The casual NBA fan that hadn’t followed Garnett in-depth in Minnesota or Boston…the Timberwolves fan that had bled with KG for a decade but felt mildly jilted to see him succeed elsewhere…the Celtics fan that was overjoyed but hadn’t bled/sweated/cried with KG but HAD lived and died with Pierce for a decade…none were really willing to fully credit KG with that pantheon-pass, despite what “I” knew to be true.

And then, the last few years that maybe could have gone back and cemented Garnett’s legacy haven’t played out like ’08.  KG got injured in ’09…no title.  KG came back but was 80% of himself in 2010…really close, but no title.  And most importantly…Garnett started angering the most dangerous foe of all: the internet fan base.

When KG clapped in Jose Calderon’s face and yelled in 2009, an innocuous act of such minor significance that it’s like had been universally ignored forever, he couldn’t have known he was declaring war with perhaps the largest internet fan-base in the NBA…the Raptors faithful.  And this happened right after the Celtics had defeated the popular Lakers in the Finals, angering another huge fan base.  And not long after that KG got on his knees on defense against Jerryd Bayless (the EXACT same thing he’d done to zero fan fair the previous year against power forward David West), causing another huge e-following in Portland to scream bloody murder.

Put those three rabid fan-bases with their internet presence together, combine with a somewhat tepid Garnett defense by his still relatively new Celtics family, and suddenly the e-stories go into the echo chamber and are heard around the web.  And Henry Abbott is bringing the blog issues to ESPN.  And commentators are weighing in on it, interviewers are asking other players about it, Garnett’s every on-court action is put under the microscope, played in slow-motion, put on you-tube.  Tired, useless non-stories and non-truths are repeated ad nauseum.

And suddenly even Celtics fans who were slowly learning to embrace the post-prime Garnett that played on their team had to take notice and address it.  Some in Celtic Nation have hunkered down in the “defend our player” stance, but some are frankly alienated by Garnett and speak strongly against him.  And as I said earlier, even the reasonable, knowledgeable Celtic fan has started including “antics” and “jerk” in their mental association with Garnett and his legacy.  And it’s a shame.

Kevin Garnett is my favorite player.  In my basketball life I have lived and died with him for more than a decade.  I lived through all of the ups and downs…saw him grow into his basketball manhood…watched him display brilliance as the best in the world… saw his boundless joy and enthusiasm for the game tempered through pain and on-court hardship but never fully quenched…felt the exultation of finally winning the ring…saw him embrace the Celtics (both franchise and teammates) as his own and put them firmly on his side in his “us vs them” mindset…and recognize that at this point in his career he is willing to do whatever it takes to bring Boston another title.  Having been along for that whole ride, I’m overjoyed that I have been able to witness one of the most remarkable careers in NBA history.  But I am a bit saddened that, even among his adopted family in Celtic Nation, there are still some…perhaps even many… that just don’t really, fully realize what they’ve had for the past four years.  Enjoy him while you can, folks.  Because once he’s gone, like Larry and Bill before him, there’ll never be another Kevin Garnett walking through those doors.

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