It seems everyone who comes in contact with Kevin Garnett walks away with a story to be shared for years to come.
So as the Celtics prepare to raise Garnett’s No. 5 to the TD Garden rafters Sunday, here are some favorite behind-the-scenes tales of those close to him.
‘What the hell is going on with Ticket?’
After the Celtics acquired Garnett from the Timberwolves in 2007, they quickly learned that he had only one speed. During one of the first practices of the 2007-08 season, coach Doc Rivers brought a sub in for Garnett, because there was no need to put excessive mileage on the new franchise cornerstone.
“KG didn’t want to come out, and when he finally did, he just starts running sprints on the side of the court while the team was practicing,” former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “It was his way of saying, ‘If you’re going to take me out, I’m still going to work.’ ”
The sprints were not aimless. With a ball in his hands and a practice jersey hanging from his pocket, Garnett shadowed the scrimmage while he ran, calling out plays and barking instructions.
Over time, that approach became common. At one practice, Garnett was instructed to take the day off to rest, and his sideline wind sprints were as intense as ever.
“We look over, and he’s just talking to himself like, ‘Come on, KG, don’t let them beat you! You’re better than that!’ ” former Celtics forward Leon Powe said. “He was trying to be the first one up and down the court every time, and when he wasn’t, he’d get so mad at himself. We’re looking over like, ‘What the hell is going on with Ticket?’ ”
‘Yo, lock in! We’re about to rock!’
The Celtics knew Garnett’s routines but sometimes failed to grasp their precision. At the start of a game day, he was just loud, brash, lovable KG. But once the pregame clock showed that there was one hour until tipoff, everything changed.
Forward Brian Scalabrine learned this the hard way.
Garnett loved the sitcom cartoon “Family Guy.” He was particularly fond of Stewie Griffin, the sarcastic toddler who speaks like an adult.
“He’d be lying on the training table before the game just watching ‘Family Guy,’ laughing so hard and cracking jokes about it,” Scalabrine said. “One day I walked through the trainer’s room and he’s like, ‘Yo, this Stewie is funny as a [expletive]! This [expletive] is crazy, Scal!’ ”
Scalabrine laughed and agreed that Stewie was funny, then he left. But he returned moments later after forgetting something.
“Literally 30 seconds earlier, we were laughing and talking about ‘Family Guy,’ ” Scalabrine said. “So I’m joking about it again and I say something to KG and he looks at me with a straight face and goes, ‘Yo, [expletive], lock in! We’re about to rock!’
“I looked up and saw the one-hour clock had just started ticking. I was like, ‘My bad,’ and I just grabbed my wristband or whatever and headed out.”
‘[Expletive] your swag!’
Glen “Big Baby” Davis was eager to play his first pickup games with his new Celtics teammates as a rookie in the summer of 2007, and he was especially excited to be matched up against Garnett, one of his childhood idols.
Davis had a tendency to shoot line-drive jumpers, so on one he yelled “Get up!” It was a loud reminder to himself to put arc on his shot.
“But KG thought I was talking to him,” Davis recalled with a chuckle. “He turned around and said, ‘You talking [expletive] you [expletive]?’ I was like, ‘No, I’m just trying to get my swag up. I’m talking to myself.’ He said, ‘[Expletive] your swag!’ So I turned around and didn’t know what to say, so I go, ‘[Expletive] your swag!’
“I swear to God, this was my first day ever interacting with KG.”
Things remained icy between the two throughout those games. Davis figured they would thaw the next day, but when he went to a team breakfast, Garnett spoke to everyone but him.
“My heart dropped,” Davis said. “I’m pacing around, and I go by him again and he don’t say nothing. It kind of hurt. So I just went up to him and I’m like, ‘I hope yesterday was yesterday. I apologize if it came off the wrong way.’ He was like, ‘You good, big fella. I like you.’ He told me that to my face. After that, I was his rookie.”
‘I’m the silverback gorilla!’
During a two-week stretch during the 2009-10 season, team plane rides turned into arm-wrestling battles. Davis, the 290-pound forward, dominated, and Garnett mostly watched from afar. On one flight home from Toronto, Davis defeated Powe, the top contender.
“Big Baby was dominating so much that things were dying down,” Scalabrine said. “Then KG stands up and goes, ‘Let’s do this, Funk!’ ”
Paul Pierce said he would bet any amount of money on Garnett, and since Davis was unbeaten, wagers came pouring in. Scalabrine tossed his $500 per diem on Davis.
Garnett noticed that Davis had been creating some leverage by holding the table with his left hand. He said left hands needed to be above the table. If nothing else, it was a mind trick. The two were at a standstill for about a minute, with Garnett loudly making it clear he would not submit.
“KG is screaming and sweating and spitting,” Scalabrine said. “He’s saying, ‘I’m not going nowhere!’ All of a sudden he moves Big Baby an inch, and he had him. He slams down his arm and goes, ‘I’m the alpha male in this [expletive]! I’m the silverback gorilla, and none of y’all ever forget it!’ ”
Garnett ripped off his shirt, threw water on his face, and kept yelling. Pierce happily started scooping up his winnings. Twelve years later, Davis isn’t ready to admit an honest defeat.
‘If I broke KG’s arm, ya’ll probably would’ve cut me.’
Glen "Big Baby" Davis on arm-wrestling with Kevin Garnett
“I didn’t want to hurt KG,” he said. “You ever see that arm-wrestling movie ‘Over The Top’ with Sylvester Stallone? People would just break their arms. That’s all I could think about: What if I break this man’s arm?
“So I let him win. He’s strong, but I didn’t want to break his arm. But he won, and everyone was like, ‘Oh, Big Baby!’ But if I broke KG’s arm, ya’ll probably would’ve cut me.”
‘KG could bring anyone back to life’
Prior to the 2013-14 season, the Celtics started their rebuild by trading Garnett and Pierce to the Nets. The following season, Nets advance scout Jim Sann suffered a heart attack during a team practice. He was slumped against the basket stanchion while athletic trainer Tim Walsh attempted to revive him using CPR and a defibrillator.
“I was busy helping him, and KG is just standing over my shoulder, yelling,” Walsh said. “It was something like, ‘You ain’t dying here! Come on, man!’ He was yelling. He was screaming.”
Former assistant coach Jay Humphries said Garnett told Sann that he needed to pull through for his two young children.
“He’s calling his name, just constantly talking to him in an intense KG manner,” Humphries said. “He was pretty much screaming over the top of him. I don’t think Sann had a choice when it came to KG letting him go to the beyond that day.”
Sann made a full recovery and is now an assistant coach for the Raptors.
“KG could bring anyone back to life,” former Nets assistant John Welch said.
‘You could tell right then that he was intense’
After the Celtics traded for Garnett, Rivers sent the team’s longtime travel and equipment manager, John Connor, to escort him from the airport. They talked about what number he might wear. They talked about how Garnett approached game days.
“You could tell right then,” Connor said, “that he was intense.”
Connor always laid out Garnett’s uniform in the TD Garden weight room, because it was his safe haven. But Connor learned that this approach required alterations, too.
“If we were on a winning streak, nothing could change,” Connor said. “He would wear the same shoes, and he’d wear socks that had holes in them. I still remember his feet with his big toe sticking out of his socks. He’d wear spandex with holes in them. Everything had to stay exactly the same.”
But winning streaks do not last forever.
“We’d have a loss, a tough loss, and he’d say to me, with some steam behind his words, ‘Get me some new [expletive] next game.’ ”
‘Truth! I don’t have it tonight’
Garnett’s game-day intensity was unmatched. He would ask for water from a team attendant and dump it on himself as if he were a marathon runner. He told staffers he shaved his head because he loved the feel of sweat dripping down his brow.
But everything he did was rooted in an insatiable desire to win, and sometimes he found creative ways to help the Celtics achieve that goal.
Early in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, it was clear to Garnett that Pierce and Cavaliers star LeBron James would be locked in a duel. He knew the Celtics would need everything Pierce could give, and he needed his teammates to understand that.
“So this is how crazy he is sometimes,” Powe said. “He comes into the huddle during a timeout and goes, ‘Truth! Man, I don’t have it tonight. I don’t have it. I’m just gonna get you the ball.’ Paul looked at him at first like, ‘What are you talking about?’
“But this was KG’s way of making sure everybody on the bench knew that he was behind Paul, and that this was Paul’s game. That’s the subtle stuff he did.”
Pierce finished with 41 points, and the Celtics advanced to the conference finals.
‘Give him the money’
When Garnett arrived in Boston, former Celtics strength coach Bryan Doo wanted to observe him for a few weeks before suggesting a training plan. He was stunned to find this elite athlete and former NBA MVP was basically doing the same handful of exercises with the same weights at the same times of day, over and over.
Since Garnett resisted changes to his routine, Doo sometimes tweaked the team’s workouts just to accomplish what he wanted with Garnett.
Garnett liked doing leg curls to strengthen his hamstrings, even though Doo advised against them. And when Garnett saw that the Celtics did not even have a leg curl machine in their weight room, he was furious.
“He goes, ‘B, order me one. Order me one or I’m going to order it myself,’ ” Doo recalled. “So he called his sister Sonya and goes, ‘B-Doo is going to buy a thing today, so give him the money.’ So I bought him a leg curl machine, one that at least wasn’t terrible.”
Within a few weeks, it was in the corner of the weight room, gathering dust. Doo warned Garnett that his training approach would leave him susceptible to an abdominal injury, and when he suffered one soon after, Garnett asked Doo to travel with him wherever he went from that point on.
Doo went with Garnett to All-Star Games, on vacations, and even on a tour of China during a sneaker company’s promotional tour. The travel party was supposed to be limited, so Garnett claimed that Doo, who is Chinese-American, was his interpreter.
“I remember when we got there, he goes, ‘B-Doo, this is your life, this is your heritage, take some time, go see the Great Wall,’ ” Doo said. “He said, ‘There’s no way I’d ever let you come here without taking some time to learn about yourself.’ ”
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