In the summer of 2007, I was living in Irvine, California. Smack inside Lakers Country. To wear green might as well have been to wear a target.
I spent a month hearing about how the Los Angeles Lakers were going to trade for Kevin Garnett. LA fans were convinced Garnett would team up with Kobe Bryant to lead them to championships.
But, as they say, “a funny thing happened on the way to the forum”.
On July 31, 2007, which just so happens to be my birthday, the Boston Celtics traded for Garnett. That changed everything for the Celtics and for me.
I’ve written about it before, but one of my favorite Celtics teams is the 2002 team that made that really unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals. I had moved to Florida during those playoffs. That 2002 team, led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, was my connection to home during those early days on my own.
Then, something weird happened. I sort of fell out of love with the NBA.
Maybe it was living in a place where callers to sports radio were more likely to ask about “Florida’s third string tackle depth” than the hometown Orlando Magic (Yes, this really happened. A lot!). Maybe it was starting my career. Maybe it was meeting the love of my life and doing that whole deal where you trade some of your interests in exchange for shared interests. Whatever it was, I just wasn’t super passionate about the NBA for the first time in my life.
Oh, I still watched. But it was more from afar than rabidly. It might be shameful to admit, but I even let my NBA League Pass subscription lapse for the first time during the 2003-04 season. I’d tune in when the Celtics were on national TV and I didn’t miss a playoff game. But a random Tuesday night in January? I was probably doing something with my soon-to-be-fiancé.
At the end of 2006, we moved to Southern California. I was more into college basketball that year than I could ever imagine. I really wanted the Celtics to get Kevin Durant. In a rare moment of draft clarity for me, I knew Durant was the guy over Greg Oden.
I also spent that season, as did so many Boston fans, rooting for losses and ping pong balls. By the time we were settled in Orange County, California vs Orange County, Florida, I wanted Boston to lose every time they played.
The 2007 NBA Draft Lottery was an event. Because of the rabidness of Lakers fan, I had gotten pulled back into the NBA some. I can also admit that a very petty part of me enjoyed that they couldn’t anger me by teasing me about Celtics losses, because I wanted Boston to lose too!
I had met one other Celtics fan in California. He went to school in Boston and fell in love with the team. He was an Oden Guy, where I was fully on Team Durant. We’d trade notes on the college players, while arguing about who fit better with Pierce and Al Jefferson. We also convinced ourselves that a group led by those two, a rookie, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Gerald Green would bring Banner 17 to Boston.
This all happened while Lakers fans laughed and pitied us for dreaming so big. Then the lottery happened and those Lakers fans laughed even harder.
Boston didn’t draw the top pick. Or even the second pick. The Basketball Gods punished the shameless tanking by dropping the Celtics to the 5th pick. Instead of Oden vs Durant, we started watching Yi Jianlian posting up against chairs. And those Lakers fans took so much glee in it.
At the 2007 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics traded the 5th overall pick (Jeff Green), along with Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and 2008 second-round pick to the Seattle SuperSonics for Ray Allen and the draft rights to Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
Ok. Ray Allen was coming off double ankle surgery that had limited the season before, but he’s a New England legend. Allen had starred at UConn before becoming a multi-time NBA All-Star. Even with bad ankles, he had averaged a career-best 26.4 points per game the season before.
Pierce, Allen, Jefferson, Rondo, Perkins, Gerald Green. That’s a group you can go to battle with.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Lakers fans were still laughing at us. Mostly because, despite their own poor finish in 2007, they were convinced they were getting Kevin Garnett that summer via trade.
The offseason progressed relatively normally. The Celtics had a relatively full roster, so their moves after completing the Ray Allen trade were limited. The rest of the NBA was doing their thing, but Boston was quiet. Or so we thought.
Kevin Garnett had reportedly made it known that he was finally ready to accept a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Boston had made a run at Garnett earlier that summer, but he wasn’t interested because he didn’t think they had enough to compete for a title.
The acquisition of Allen, while keeping Paul Pierce, changed everything.
Now, at the risk of sounding old, you have to remember there was no Twitter in 2007. Even digital updates via websites were somewhat limited. When news broke in late-July that the Celtics were again in on trading for Garnett, I’ll admit my employer got almost no work out of me for a few days.
I refreshed the Boston Globe and Boston Herald sites almost constantly. I lived on the RealGM message boards. And, of course, I was tuned into the local Los Angeles sports radio stations, because the Lakers were in on trading for Garnett too.
It was a steady stream of updates that seemed shaky at best.
On July 30th, it looked like Garnett was headed to Boston. At one point, a version of the deal even had the Celtics keeping Al Jefferson. It was all so crazy, and you just had to wait for the news, because there was no Twitter to get constant updates or clear things up. Heck, Adrian Wojnarowski wasn’t even really WOJ yet, and Shams Charania wasn’t even in the game yet.
On Tuesday, July 31st, I wore a green shirt to our office with a Celtics t-shirt underneath. When the news broke that the trade was official, me and my one Celtics buddy celebrated like crazy. It was a very happy birthday for me, indeed.
Starting with Friday, November 2, 2007, I haven’t missed a Celtics game. Occasionally, I miss a game live, but I always watch it later. That streak continues to this day.
And it’s all because of Kevin Garnett.
I would race home from work, as much as you can possible “race home” in Southern California traffic to catch games. If I was a little late, I’d get caught up on the DVR. By early January, the Celtics were 29-3 and you couldn’t tell me anything but Banner 17 was coming.
It was right around that same time that my wife and I’s company told us they wanted to move us back to Florida. Our time in Southern California was coming to an end. Before I left, I made a bet with my Lakers fan friends that if the two teams were to meet in the NBA Finals, that the winning side would send the losing side a bunch of gear and decorations to wear and hang up around their office. That was one I loved seeing paid off.
We moved back to Florida on a redeye flight that got in at 6:00 AM ET on Sunday, April 20th. That night, my wife and I were seated at the ESPN Club at Walt Disney’s Boardwalk Resort to watch the Celtics play the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of their first-round series.
By Game 2 on Wednesday, we had bought a brand-new TV and TV stand. The rest of the playoffs would be watched from our living room. Camp chairs, the TV and the TV stand the only furniture we had in the house while the rest made its way across the country.
I have so much fondness of that team and that journey through the playoffs. It’s their run, but also our life at the time.
Seven games against that crappy Hawks team, follow by seven games against LeBron James and the not-quite-there-yet Cleveland Cavaliers. When Boston lost at home to the Detroit Pistons in Game 2 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, it was a nervous time. Those Celtics hadn’t won a road playoff game in the first two rounds. But they won Game 3 in Detroit and dispatched the Pistons in six games.
The 2008 NBA Finals were amazing. It was Celtics vs Lakers again. Everything you could want. By the time Boston won Game 4 in Los Angeles to go up 3-1 in the series, you could feel the celebration building. Despite losing a tight one in Game 5, there was a feeling the Celtics would take care of things back home in Boston.
Take care of things they did. A 39-point victory where it felt like the entire fourth quarter was one long pre-party before the real thing started.
And it’s all because of Kevin Garnett.
Kevin Garnett brought the Celtics back. Yes, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and James Posey and Eddie House and P.J. Brown were huge parts of things too, but it was KG who lifted Boston back on top.
And he brought me back too. If it wasn’t for Kevin Garnett, I wouldn’t be writing this. I don’t know if my love for the NBA would have come back without the trade that brought Garnett to the Celtics.
That trade brought me back and I haven’t left since.
When the 2009 team battled without Garnett and fell to the Orlando Magic, I was in the house for each game here in Orlando. Yes, I saw Big Baby trample a small child after a game-winning jumper. And I saw that undermanned and injured team fight until the bitter end.
I halfheartedly watched the 2010 team get destroyed by the Cavs in Game 3 of their second round series. But I had good reason. Our daughter had been born just one day earlier. I’ll never forget silently screaming at the TV as she slept on my chest as Boston ended the first LeBron era in Cleveland.
The Celtics are inextricably linked to some of the happiest moments in my life. Those 1980s teams were part of how I bonded with my dad. That 2002 team got me through those early days on my own. That 2008 team made me cry tears of joy. The 2010 team made me cry because I watched those guys fight until the bitter end, while holding my newborn daughter throughout the entire run.
Today, I get emotional again thinking about Kevin Garnett. He left everything he had on the floor each night. You never saw Garnett coast through a game. It was always pure effort and passion ratcheted up way past 100%.
So, on his day, the day his #5 will go to the rafters, I want to say thanks KG. Thanks for Banner 17. Thanks for being the warrior we wanted and needed.
Thanks for making me love the NBA again. Love it the way I did when I was a kid. Thanks for my career, which I owe solely to that love of the game.
As you said best: “Anything is possible.”
Thank you, KG. Thanks for everything.