Look around and you'll see a good deal of uniformity in the NBA. Squint hard enough and everyone from Kobe Bryant to D-League scrubs are trying to "be like Mike." Shooters mimic the great shooters' technique and coaches preach fundamentals (even if the players don't always listen).
So it is always fun to find someone that breaks from the mold a bit. Charles Barkley was too short to be that good at power forward. Allen Iverson was too small to be that good a scorer. Reggie Miller's shot was too ugly to keep going in. Magic Johnson was too tall to be a point guard. These are the guys that we remember vividly for the rest of our days. They break the mold and define their own reality in weird and wonderful ways.
Kevin Garnett took a sledghammer to the mold and screamed expletives at it.
He's more than a unique player in the history of the NBA, he's a defiant one. They told him he was a center, he defied them. They told him he had to go to college, he defied them. They told him he had to play with his back to the basket, he defied them. They said he had to calm down, he crawled on all fours and barked at them.
They said nobody was worth the kind of money he was making, then he went out and outplayed his contract - earning another just like it. They said he couldn't win the big game, then he became an NBA champion.
He's a seven-foot-something freak of an athlete with incredible shooting touch. In Minnesota, you could have called every single play for him, let the other team put 4 or 5 players on him, and he would STILL be the best scoring option on the floor. Yet he passed time and time again because it was the right basketball play.
Nobody would have faulted him for putting up jaw dropping scoring numbers and taking off a few plays on defense but he flipped the script and made himself one of the leagues most dominant defensive players ever.
Watching him on the court, the term that comes to mind is "madman." There appears to be something unhinged in him and nobody is exactly sure what to make of it. Yet he knows where everyone on the court is, where they should be, and what he needs to do to stop the offensive player from achieving his goal. Give him the ball at the top of the key and you'll see that madman turn as stoic as a stone. He calmly steps into a fluid shooting motion that is as money as anyone in the league from that spot. Then he'll run back up the court muttering insults to nobody in particular.
Off the court, it is like a switch is flipped. He becomes eloquent, thoughtful, and deeply insightful. He's proud yet humble. He's confident yet gracious. I'm actually convinced that he sometimes says things on the court that he has no direct recollection of when he steps off the court.
He's also incredibly witty and playful but it is hard to see that because he doesn't really trust anyone outside his chosen inner circle. It seems like the only two things that bring out The Kid in him these days are Gino Time and Craig Sager's suits.
The Kid is getting old though. His body has taken such a beating through the years that it has to be screaming in pain when he wakes up in the morning. Pain is sometimes our body's way of telling us that something is wrong and you should probably stop doing what you are doing. But of course Kevin defies it and pushes on.
Many thought that he should have retired last year, but he decided to come back. Just like many told him that he should have asked for a trade out of Minnesota sooner, yet he stayed at least a year longer than others might have. Several suggested that it would be a good move to accept a trade to the Clippers and take a shot at a ring on the other coast. Yet he had no desire to waive his no trade clause, instead preferring to stick it out with this teammates, his brothers.
So here he is at the end of a very long year. Bone spurs are floating around his foot, probably making every step painful. There's really no telling how many other painful things he's playing through. His team was down 3 games to none and nobody would have been all that surprised if the Celtics let the Knicks complete the sweep in game 4.
Of course you know how that played out. KG grabbed 17 rebounds and led the defense, helping his team win and survive to play another day. Don't talk to him about the future. Don't talk to him about losing. He doesn't care what the odds say. He doesn't care that no team has come back from 0-3. All he's focused on is playing the next game and winning.