Those of us that are old enough remember what it was like to watch Larry Bird. We remember his dagger jumpers. His artistry passing the ball. How he was always at the right place at the right time to make the right play. But what really stands out in memory is his...aura. There were other great players on those Celtics, there were people on the team that did some things better than Larry...but at the end of the day, Larry was the heart of that team. He was the personality. He was the swagger. He did things as a player that no one had ever done before or since, and when he walked out the door we knew that we would never see another exactly like him.
Those born a generation earlier remember what it was like to see Bill Russell. I've read about his otherworldly defense. His ability to seemingly block every shot, then grab every rebound. His ability to win, pretty much no matter what. But what really jumps out when I talk to people that remember Russell is that his aura seemed larger than life. Those Celtics teams were chock full of Hall-of-Famers...there were many better scorers, players able to do some things that Russell couldn't...but at the end of the day, everyone knew that the team belonged to Mr. Russell. He was the general of the team. He was the brains. He was the confidence. He did things as a player that no one had ever done before or since, and when he walked out the door it was clear that we would never see another exactly like him.
Remember watching Kevin Garnett.
A couple of years ago I wrote an article entitled: "Why I am a KG fan" in which I went into great detail about what it has been like to have followed Garnett so closely for the past 13 years. It has been an amazing ride, for so many reasons. If I can humbly pimp my own article, I suggest that you take a minute and click on that link to read my testimonial about the way that KG played the game. I don't want to just repeat myself, so today I'm going to take it in a different direction and talk about the unique things that Garnett has accomplished. Because Garnett really didn't get to Boston until his prime was almost over, even most Celtics fans don't really have a conception for just how lofty Garnett's placement is in NBA history.
For example, does it ever occur to you that in Garnett you're witnessing arguably one of the 10 best players that ever lived?
That's not a consensus opinion, but it's certainly a supportable one. Over on a non-team affiliated message board, a 7-month player ranking project last summer ranked Garnett as the 13th best player in NBA history. I actually think that's an underestimation of Garnett, but it clearly shows that basketball nerds from markets well outside of Minnesota and Boston are recognizing that his combination of production and impact makes him one of the super-elite players to ever lace 'em up. So let's look at some KG fun facts:
- Players in NBA history with both an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Kevin Garnett
- Most lopsided MVP votes in NBA history: 1) Shaquille O'Neal 2000 (99.8% of possible MVP shares), 2) Kevin Garnett 2004 (99.1% of MVP shares), 3) Michael Jordan 1996 (98.6% of MVP shares), 4) Larry Bird 1986 (98.1% of votes)
- Most seasons averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists: 1) Kevin Garnett (6 times), 2) Larry Bird (5 times), 3) Wilt Chamberlain (4 times)
- Players to lead team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks by both total and average in full season: only Kevin Garnett, 2003
- Players to lead NBA in both total points and total rebounds in a single season since the NBA/ABA merger: only Kevin Garnett, 2004
- The 20k points, 10k rebounds, 5k assists club: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett. Garnett is the only player ever to also have 1500 recorded blocks and steals as well.
Defense: Garnett is tied for the most First Team All Defense selections in NBA history (nine), and is the only player with both nine defensive First Teams and five top-3 finishes in the Defensive Player of the Year vote. Since those honors didn't exist until the 70s and 80s, I think we can safely assume that all-time a certain Mr. Russell would also match those defensive accomplishments...but he's the only other player that I'd give that benefit of the doubt to.
- Players to lead championship squad in postseason PER and win shares while averaging 20 and 10 (in shot clock era): Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Dave Cowens, Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett
They say that when judging accomplishments, you should look at the other people on the list with you. KG has several EXTREMELY short list accomplishments on his resume where his only peers are the inner circle INSIDE the inner circle of NBA Hall of Famers...and a few others in which he HAS no peers among anyone that has ever played the game.
In 20 years your kids or grandkids will ask you what made Garnett so special. Why is he the first name that always comes up when people talk about this generation of Celtics champions? And you'll be able to tell them about his otherworldly defensive abilities. That he was arguably the most versatile 7-footer that the game has ever seen. But beyond the ability, beyond the stats, Kevin Garnett also has that aura. There are other great players on this Celtics team, players who do certain things better than Garnett at this stage of his career...but Garnett has been the heart and soul since he arrived in Boston. He's the personality. The fiery leader. The one that gives the team its edge. The ambassador of UBUNTU. He's done things as a player that no one has ever done before or ever will again. And when Kevin Garnett walks out the door, keep in mind that we will never see another exactly like him.