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Kevin Garnett's Headed Back To Minnesota, And That Feels Just Right

Kevin Garnett had six outstanding years in Celtic green, but it's perfectly fitting that he's finishing out his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

KG's headed back to where it all began.
KG's headed back to where it all began.
Joe Robbins-USA TODAY Sports

Almost three years ago now, early on a Saturday morning in late June of 2012, Kevin Garnett announced that he was putting off his retirement and returning to the Celtics to sign a surprising three-year contract. Garnett was 17 years into his career already at the time, and he'd just come up short in a valiant attempt to lead the Celtics past LeBron James and the Heat to a third NBA Finals. It looked like we'd seen the best that KG could do. From here on out, everything would be afterword.

I remember where I was when I heard KG was coming back. I was driving through Somerville, doing my Saturday grocery shopping, when the news came on the radio. I remember being shocked - so much so that I had to pull over for a moment, on Elm Street just outside of Porter Square, to collect myself. You see, after covering KG for a few years in Boston and getting to know him a little bit, albeit only in that distant and unsophisticated way that a reporter can really "know" a superstar athlete, I thought I had him figured out. I thought he was a competitor above all else - and that once he could no longer compete at the level he demanded from himself, he'd fade away. After watching him give absolutely everything in that Game 7 down in Miami and lose anyway, I figured he was finished. He'd done all he could.

Eventually, I figured out how wrong I was.

For many of the NBA's all-time greats, competition is everything and the only thing. Names like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant come to mind. But after giving it a few minutes of thought (wait, who am I kidding, more like eight years), I've come to realize that Garnett's clock ticks a little different. He's a competitor, no doubt, but what matters to him even more is loyalty. KG lives to be part of a team. He's undyingly faithful to the guys around him - players, coaches, fans, everyone. If you're part of his inner circle, he'll love you unconditionally; if you're not, then f--- you. That mindset is why his teammates have always loved him while his opponents loathe him.

It's also why Garnett decided against retiring in 2012, even after 17 grueling years of pro ball that left him physically and emotionally spent. On a rational level, walking away made sense, but Garnett's love for the people around him in Boston was all-consuming and totally irrational. Even if he could no longer lead a championship team - if those 36-year-old ankles and knees just wouldn't let him do it anymore - he'd sooner die than let Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and yes, even Rajon Rondo go on without him. So he stayed.

It's that same loyalty that made me happy yesterday afternoon to see the news - that Garnett, after some 20 months in Brooklyn, was going back to the Minnesota Timberwolves to finish his career. We cherish Garnett in Boston, and we'll never forget what he did to bring the Celtics a championship, but I think in our heart of hearts we can understand that Minnesota is where he should be when the dust finally settles.

I thought a lot back in that summer of '12 about how Garnett would ultimately be remembered when he hung it up - or rather, which team he'd be remembered for. Which hat he'd wear on the plaque in Cooperstown, to borrow a classic baseball trope. At the time, I thought Garnett was poised to play out years six, seven and eight in a Celtics uniform, which would bring him to a full 40 percent of his career in green. He had longevity with the Wolves, but he had tradition and pride and that all-important ring in Boston. He also had lifelong friends, Pierce especially.

I'm not so sure now. We've had a couple of years now to distance ourselves from Garnett's tenure in Boston, to let it breathe. We had six amazing years together, but what does six years ultimately mean when it's just one small piece of a storied two-decade career? Not to say that Garnett is just a hired mercenary to the Celtics, because he's surely much more than that, but can we as Bostonians really claim KG as "ours?"

I'll always remember those glory days of the late-2000s Celtics and hold them dear, but I must begrudgingly admit that Garnett's legacy isn't ultimately a Celtics-centric one. Despite everything KG achieved in Boston, you still have to concede that his time in Minnesota, all 12 seasons of it, was what really made him, him.

If you have a spare 10 minutes today, I'd highly recommend spending them on this interview that KG did back in 2005 with legendary coach John Thompson, Jr. This was just at the beginning of his career tailspin - after eight straight years in the playoffs, Minnesota missed out for the first time in '05, and then things began to fall apart. The Wolves went 33-49 in 2005-06, which was not coincidentally the season that the "trade KG" bandwagon began picking up steam. Speaking with Thompson, at the very beginning of Minnesota's nadir season, KG bared his soul. He talked about the uncertain contracts and roles of his key teammates - Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak. He broke down in tears briefly. When Thompson asked him point-blank, "What's driving you?" KG shot back instantly, "That I'm losing." He repeated the words "I'm losing, I'm losing" several times. When told that individually, he was performing great, he responded that "This ain't golf, this ain't tennis, it ain't about me - it's about us." Garnett was doggedly, unabashedly, to a fault dedicated to his team and his teammates.

This has always been what KG's all about. And Minnesota - you've got to give that barren tundra of a state credit - is where he first adopted that persona. Where he first learned to be the unfailing team player that he is today. That counts for... well, just about everything.

You can talk all you want about the on-paper achievements that Garnett compiled in Minnesota, and they certainly are impressive - 19,041 points, 10,542 rebounds, 4,146 assists, 10 All-Star selections and the 2004 Most Valuable Player award. Those speak volumes. But they're also far from the point. Beyond the individual accolades, what Garnett did in Minnesota was shape himself into an unforgettable player. A once-in-a-generation guy.

Now that KG is headed back to the Twin Cities, I really couldn't be happier for him. He won't help the 2014-15 Timberwolves, who are mired in a race for the NBA's worst record, but again - not the point. What's relevant is that Garnett is putting the perfect exclamation point on a storybook career.

In his post-Finals sideline interview in 2008 - the moment now infamous for the "ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE!" outburst - one of the first things Garnett said after collecting himself was that "This is for everybody in 'Sota." That was no throwaway line. He still felt an undying sense of loyalty to the Timberwolves' organization, even after they'd spent over a decade mistreating him and failing to build a successful team around him. He couldn't help but show them love. That's who KG is. Even when the idea of loyalty is crumbling all around him, he still clings to every shred of it that he's got.

In 2015, KG's still in the same situation - still loyal to a fault, even when everything and everyone around him turns sour. He signed for three years in Boston, hoping to stay with his longtime Boston allies. It didn't take long before Ray Allen left for Miami; then a year later, Doc went to L.A. and Pierce went to Brooklyn, only to skip town again for D.C. Rondo's now in Dallas. Everyone Garnett held dear is now scattered across the league. In Brooklyn, KG was alone, playing out the end of his career without the guys he intended to stick around for.

For a while, I felt bad for the guy. It wasn't supposed to end like this. But in going back to Minnesota, KG gets to end things on his own terms. After the utter mess that his career's been for the last season and a half, he gets to go out on a happy note. Just a few short months ago, that didn't seem realistic, but hey - anything's possible.

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