UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Kevin Garnett strolled onto the stage at the Cabaret Theatre with beads of sweat forming on his bald head. It wasn’t quite the 2008 NBA Finals at TD Garden, but Garnett was just as emotionally and mentally invested in discussing his Hall of Fame career.
After more than a year’s wait, Garnett will finally be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as the Class of 2020 along with his contemporaries, Tim Duncan and the late Kobe Bryant. The ceremonies were pushed back seven months because of the pandemic, but that still was not enough time for Garnett to smell the roses of his career or truly appreciate his contributions to the game and his evolution of his position.
He has not shaken the competitive aspect of basketball, even five years after his final game. So all the hugs and handshakes, congratulations and kudos are uncomfortable. The fire remains there, even four days before his 45th birthday.
And he laughs when he sees current players jumping over teammates to block shots after the official’s whistle as a practice. When Garnett invented such a fiercely competitive practice, he was tabbed a jerk.
“I haven’t gotten to the hug part yet,” he said a day before his induction. “The competitive juices and friends and foes slowly diminishes as we get older, right? I laugh at it when I watch kids go out and damn near break their neck trying to block the shot after the (whistle). I don’t really think about it. It’s one of those things when you see it when I’m amongst players, and they speak about it, it hits me then.
“One day I guess I’ll sit back and actually embrace it all but I’m still in it, if I’m being honest. I’m still in it.”
Garnett spent more years in Minnesota than Boston. He was the first great – and perhaps only great – Timberwolves’ player. But it’s the Celtics who are retiring his number. It’s Boston where he won his only NBA championship. It’s Boston that changed the course of his career, from a player unable to lift a franchise on his bony shoulders to prolonged prosperity to part of a Hall of Fame trio that started the trend of star players collaborating for titles.
“(Going to Boston) meant everything man,” he said. “You come into the NBA wanting to win and losing is part of it and you have to accept it and getting with a storied franchise like Boston gave me light. It gave me breath. It gave me purpose. And the players that you’re playing with actually made the experience monumental. It made it magical. The city was waiting for something big or for something big to happen versus where it was and when we went, we just never looked back.”
Garnett was mostly lowkey during his six years in Boston but he appreciated the city, appreciated the love and even the sometimes obsessive passion of the Celtics fan.
“The fanbase in Boston was over the top, people following you home, people standing outside your gate when you get home, people wanting to pump your gas,” he said. “The fan (support) in Boston was just another level. But I learned to embrace it and my only regret in any of this is I should have came to Boston a little earlier. Other than that, it’s magic.
“Ever since I stepped in the league this has been a big ass dream and this is no different.”
Friday also served as an opportunity for Garnett to potentially mend fences in Minnesota. He left without a title, feeling as if he did not receive enough support to compete with the likes of the Lakers and Spurs. After building a strong relationship with Celtics co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca, Garnett began to resent Minnesota owner Glen Taylor and after he finished his career with the Timberwolves, he was visibly bothered by Taylor never offering him a chance to become part of the ownership group.
He blames Taylor for not negotiating in good faith as Garnett led an ownership group to buy the Timberwolves. Taylor agreed to sell the team to a group led by baseball great Alex Rodriguez this week.
Yet, there was no anger in Garnett’s voice, none of the four-letter words he mouthed to rivals and teammates alike. There was only humility, reflection and graciousness.
“Nothing is with regret,” he said. “I think everything I learned in Minnesota I was able to carry with me to Boston and make myself a better player and better teammate. I had a better relationship with Wyc the owner because of the situations and stuff I went through in Minnesota. Minnesota took a chance on me. I don’t have any regrets. I thank Glen Taylor. I thank Kevin (McHale), I thank (former coach) Flip Saunders for actually blessing me with the opportunity of being drafted, giving me the canvas to actually come out here and show the world. Kevin McHale being a great teacher, having great teammates like Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter that gave me the bearings.
“So nah, I don’t regret none of that. Without Sota, I don’t know if I’m the player I am in Boston. If anything, thank you.”
Then Garnett departed the stage, his head sweating, fighting off emotion as it were Karl Malone chasing a rebound only to understand the weekend has just begun. There will be countless hugs, handshakes and knuckle bumps, standing ovations and another opportunity to address the world.
Garnett finally appears prepared to embrace and accept the love.