Kevin Garnett was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves on June 28, 1995, a little more than a month after his 19th birthday.
Bill Clinton was still in his first term, post-Gennifer Flowers (but pre-Monica Lewinski), the internet was encased in a bland shell of AOL, and the legendary Die Hard with a Vengeance – the one with Jeremy Irons! – had just been released to unprecedented worldwide acclaim.
Basically, it was a super long time ago.
Since that fateful day, Garnett has become a singular stalwart in the NBA … primarily because he cares so goddamn much. About everything. The endless chattering to his teammates, his penchants for trash-talking the opposition and swearing on broadcast television, his insistence on blocking dead-ball shots after a whistle has stopped play. For better or worse, all of this was a part of the raw, sinewy, passionate Pogo-Stick that is Kevin Garnett.
That wild-eyed intensity is what makes it so odd and dissonant to watch him play for the blasé 2013-2014 Brooklyn Nets, a pointless collection of transient parts currently putting up a mild and doomed fight against the Miami Heat in the NBA Playoffs.
The Nets have no discernible identity or distinctive style of play. They operate at a glacial pace, and not in a particularly interesting way. They’re a middle-of-the-road team by all objective measures. Their home crowd has a reputation for being disengaged and tardy. And their mascot sucks. In general, the world seems more interested in buying crisp new merchandise with “Brooklyn” emblazoned on it than the on-the-court product.
The Nets are the basketball equivalent of an exurb in Phoenix: an expensive, geriatric mish-mash with no shared history. Many of their players – Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Garnett, to name a few – were randomly plucked from elsewhere by a Russian oligarch owner, presumably because he recognized their names from past glories. But within two years, maybe less, many of the team’s core players will either have retired or been dragged down by the ravages of time to minimal effectiveness.
This mediocrity – this playing out of the string in a rootless nowhere – this is no place for the Big Ticket.
KG has always carried a fierce loyalty to the cities and franchises that he played for. Just a few months before he was traded to Brooklyn, he proclaimed: “I bleed green and I continue to do that. And if it’s up to me then I’m going to retire a Celtic.” And one of the first things he uttered on camera after winning the 2008 championship with Boston was “This is for everybody in ‘Sota!”
He’s a sentimental romantic; a franchise monogamist in a philanderer’s league. KG would always prefer to work things out rather than see other people. In that regard alone he is unique, especially after LeBron took his talents to South Beach. And yet here he is, involuntarily cast out of a Boston he’d come to love and onto a senior-citizen cruise as a last stop on his way out of the league.
Now 37, Garnett is demonstrably slowed from his peak. He’s averaging a career-low 20 minutes per game during this year’s postseason. In Game 1 of this Miami series, he recorded his first ever zero-point playoff game – his first in 139 career playoff contests. But he’s still KG: directing teammates, playing tight defense, setting hard picks and bringing his enflamed passion to the proceedings. One can’t help imagine him terrifying shoppers at the Park Slope Food Co-op, or boxing out commuters on a rush-hour L Train. His heart may still be in Boston, but his warrior soul currently resides in Brooklyn. KG knows no other way.
Even if the effort is being expended in the name of a hopeless and forgettable cause like the 2013-2014 Brooklyn Nets, it’s worth watching and appreciating. Garnett has one year remaining on his contract, but retirement looms as a possibility. If this truly is his last go-round, he’s giving it his all, even if he probably knows he deserves better. Warriors suffer their pain silently.
Regardless of what happens following his time in Brooklyn, you can bet that won’t see him linger past his expiration date. Garnett will never be a role-player on a contender; he’s the Ticket, he’s the show. He will be buried with his sword. And when his time on the battlefield is done, he’ll have something bigger waiting for him in the afterlife. Not in Springfield, but Valhalla, where only pure-hearted warriors reside.
Enjoy him while you still can, mortals.