Kevin Garnett is officially a Hall of Famer. One of the NBA’s most emotional and focused players, a man who gave no thought to anything but the present, now has a chance to reflect on his accomplishments over a 21-year career.
Garnett, who spent six seasons in Boston and will have his No. 5 retired by the Celtics during the 2020-21 season, has had a chance for the honor to sink in. He will join, among others, Tim Duncan and the late Kobe Bryant, in an illustrious class that will be inducted Aug. 28.
“It means everything,” Garnett said. “Along the lines of where professional sports take on, a part of the role where you could do it the right way, and that’s how I’m going to label that.
“I’d like to think through my career I never got in no real trouble, never been no real [expletive] headache. I never cut any corners. You really think about the journey, and you’ve got any pitfalls and hurdles over it, the work is not for certain, the work you put in this, the moves you actually come up with, the stuff you actually work on, ain’t nothing for certain.”
Garnett’s style and trash talk made him a controversial figure, but one that was beloved in Boston, and eventually by his peers, because of his passion. Garnett cursed, chided, screamed, and shrieked at opponents. He wanted to win that badly, and he repeatedly screamed, “Anything is possible!” after helping the Celtics to their 18th title in 2007-08, Garnett’s 13th season.
Relentlessness and work ethic were terms associated with Garnett, and he is credited with helping change the Celtics’ culture after arriving in a trade with the Timberwolves.
“You have to go out and believe in it. I like to think that I never gave up on anything,” he said. “I’ve always been a very persistent person and I really felt like I’ve earned this. I felt like I’ve put in the work for this. I’ve actually watched people that have come before me and players that have solidified themselves, and I’m no different from that. I was very focused on being the consummate professional when I played. I wanted to be the consummate competitor. I wanted to be remembered, and whatever reason was to remember, that’s what it was. I wanted to leave my mark on the game energetically and I wanted everybody to know I gave everything to it.
“To have this honor, even with 2020 being like [expletive]. I don’t know about you, but I’m still dealing with Kobe stuff, dealing where we are with everything, but it’s a bit of a crazy balance of good and bad. I’m more than honored for this.”
The roots of Garnett’s success began in Minnesota, where he was drafted by former Celtic Kevin McHale and coached by Flip Saunders. McHale and Saunders surrounded Garnett with veterans such as Sam Mitchell, Terry Porter, and Malik Sealy, helping to mold a young, talented, but audacious big man.
“I’d like to think with the opportunity that you’re given, what do you do with it?” Garnett said. “When people put great pieces in front of you or put you in other pieces, what do you do with them? I’d like to think I took advantage of all the opportunities that I’ve ever been presented to me. Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders, taking a chance on me, giving me a chance to grow. Kevin McHale understanding the young man that was inside of me, the young animal that was inside of me, having a hunger about being the best and really meaning that.
“The people that you play with, the knowledge you are able to get. I didn’t mention J.R. Rider, I didn’t mention Christian Laettner, I didn’t mention Tom Gugliotta, I didn’t mention Doug West. I didn’t mention Mike Williams, Sam Mitchell, these are pivotal people who have given knowledge that I’ve used from Day 1 and to make it into my own.”
Sealy, six years Garnett’s senior, became a mentor and close friend. The swingman was tragically killed by a wrong-way drunk driver in 2000 coming home from Garnett’s 24th birthday party in the Minneapolis area.
Garnett credits Sealy with helping him embrace the journey and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
“Malik was another influence that got me to think outside the box a little bit,” Garnett said. “I was a very productive but very private person, and he got me to relax a little bit, sophisticated me a little bit to do some of the things that’s in life, and I actually enjoyed the league a little bit. It was so much work, work, work, and so much focus, that I never really gave myself room for anything else. I could say Malik made life fun.
“He made every city fun. Along with Sam, along with some of my old heads, they made it worth it. When I was able to be an older person and mixed old standards, and I mixed that in there. I was able to relate to some of the younger generation too, being that transparent. I’d like to think through every path you get to survive, you have to look back on people that made marks on your life. Those guys embarked influence really early in my career.”
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?
Hiring process needs to change
When the Bulls were looking for a new team president in an organizational shakeup, they compiled a list of candidates, none of which was African-American.
The Bulls decided on Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, an astute choice and one of the league’s rising executives. And while Karnisovas has a proven track record in building the Nuggets into a Western Conference contender, several African-American executives around the league looking for an opportunity noticed the lack of people of color, or women, in the candidate pool.
There’s a perception that there is a glass ceiling for African-Americans in front office positions, especially since owners generally are seeking executives with analytics backgrounds.
African-American executives such as the Thunder’s Troy Weaver, the Knicks’ Gerald Madkins, and the Clippers’ Mark Hughes have spent years advancing slowly through the ranks, waiting for opportunities to run teams.
But often, they can’t even get an interview. Some of these men are middle-aged, past the point they would be considered rising stars or bright young minds, which is what many owners are seeking.
What was distressing about the Bulls’ search is that former GMs Danny Ferry (who was fired twice, and who also made a racial remark in an evaluation of NBA veteran Luol Deng) and Bryan Colangelo (who was fired in Philadelphia for developing a burner Twitter account to criticize his own players) also interviewed for the position.
Which begs the question: Should the NBA institute a rule like the NFL has for such cases, where at least one minority candidate must be interviewed? There are six Black GMs in the NBA, but three — the Spurs’ Brian Wright, the Knicks’ Scott Perry, and the Pelicans’ Trajan Langdon — do not make the ultimate roster decisions, they are working under team presidents.
What the NBA lacks is a Fritz Pollard-type of alliance to publicly call out teams on these hiring processes. NBA teams should hire the best candidates, but to say these best candidates are mostly white or male is inaccurate.
While the NBA has been astute about funneling women into coaching and front office positions, which team is going to be the first to hire a women or African-American candidate, which may lack the public sizzle, to run the operation? One of these teams is going to have to go against the grain, take a chance, and hire a candidate that may not be a household name or may have never done the job before.
The NBA prides itself on being the most open-minded and trail-blazing league, but the Bulls’ process shows that there is still more progress to be made. Masai Ujiri, who is Kenyan and Nigerian, was the mastermind behind the Raptors’ 2019 NBA title and is an example of an unconventional candidate making good on his opportunity.
Suggestions on resuming play
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during a video conference that the league will wait until at least May 1 to decide when, or if, the season will resume. He said the NBA will ensure the safety of its players, team officials, and arena employees before even considering a resumption of play.
What is evident is that the league is likely to move forward without fans, at least temporarily. It’s highly unlikely that professional and college sports leagues will be able to allow fans into arenas, so they will start without fans.
The best idea is to hold training camps at the beginning of July, allowing teams three weeks to get into basketball shape before meeting in a central location to continue the regular season.
Here are six things the NBA should do to make this season work:
1. Reduce the number of regular-season games remaining, allowing each team to play the same number. As much as banged-up players are getting healthy during this hiatus, none of these players has played five-on-five in more than a month, which is probably longer than any player has spent without basketball since they were children. There not only needs to be a three-week training camp but several high-intensity games prior to the playoffs. The NBA should not just resume with the playoffs. That would mean that more than half of the league’s players — those who don’t reach the playoffs — will not play a competitive NBA game for more than six months.
2. Conduct a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each conference, although this would not be fair to the Magic, who are currently 5½ games ahead of the Wizards for the eighth spot in the East. The NBA could also conduct a play-in tournament for lottery position. Should the Warriors automatically get the No. 1 overall pick because they have the league’s worst record by four games? Should there be a draft lottery consisting of the teams that don’t reach the playoffs, like a normal year? Or should the NBA have a four-team tournament that would determine the top four picks? If there is any year for Silver to implement some outside-the-box ideas, this is the year. A four-team tournament to determine the top four picks would attract interest.
3. Taking an idea from Jalen Rose of ESPN, the NBA should combine with the WNBA to hold doubleheaders at a central location. Since both leagues will attempt to resume play at the same time, it would be great to bring the leagues and fan bases together. If Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon is indeed the No. 1 overall pick by the Liberty, wouldn’t it be cool for the Liberty and Knicks to play back-to-back? It would be an opportunity for the NBA to help boost the popularity of the WNBA.
4. The league needs to reduce every playoffs series, except for the conference finals and NBA Finals, to five games. Remember the 1980s, when the playoffs didn’t last 2½ months? Well, so do we, and the league needs to get back to that format for at least this summer. A five-game series is plenty of time to determine whether an 8 seed can beat a 1 seed. We don’t need seven games for the first two rounds. It may be a little uncomfortable for current players to play in five-game series, but it’s either that or playing playoff back-to-backs to squeeze in the entire schedule. If the NBA does not want to spill into October, where attention will shift to baseball playoffs and NFL and college football, there needs to be a shortening of the playoffs.
5. Push the start of the 2020-21 NBA season back to Dec. 25, but don’t make this permanent. There has been growing support that the NBA should adjust the timing of the regular season from October-April to December-June, with the playoffs spilling into August. Do we really want the NBA Finals in July every year? No. While a Dec. 25 season start is convenient for this situation, waiting until nearly the new year to play an NBA regular-season game is way too late. Basketball is a fall/winter sport.
6. Every NBA team should collaborate with their NFL, NHL, and MLB counterparts to provide free tickets to hospital workers in their area, arena workers who are currently unemployed, and those who contracted COVID-19 but recovered. The NBA could even offer free League Pass — its television service that shows all games that aren’t nationally televised — to the same groups for a season.
Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar donated 900 goggles to the doctors, nurses, and medical personnel fighting COVID-19 at the UCLA Medical Center. Abdul-Jabbar wore goggles for most of his career after being poked in the eye … While the number of players who have declared for the draft has steadily increased, the NBA still hasn’t determined whether the draft will take place on time and how prospects will be evaluated. The lack of an NCAA Tournament, and now the inability to have personal workouts, hinders the evaluation process … NBA owners have decided to provide the players with their paychecks for April 15, and the process is expected to be determined biweekly, which is how players are paid during the season. It’s a difficult issue. Players aren’t allowed to play because of the pandemic, but again, they aren’t generating any revenue for the owners. It’s unlikely, however, for this to cause labor strife because both sides understand the unprecedented situation and both sides are eager to resume playing … Former Celtic Ray Allen has become an Instagram star in recent few days, instructing his followers to stay at home and stay safe, and also posting video of his four boys working on their games on a court at their Miami-area home. Allen also started what he called a “hairline” challenge, where he wants followers and some of his NBA buddies to post pictures of their hairlines now that many of us aren’t able to get haircuts. Allen began the challenge by posting a picture of his balding crown. Allen has made the smooth transition to life after basketball. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.