In his long, knobby-kneed strides, Kevin Garnett has reached the crossroads of his NBA life.
He has admitted he wants no part of a public life following his NBA career. That means he won't be dropping any expletives on "Inside the NBA" or screaming at young players and holding a clipboard as a Timberwolves assistant. Garnett said a few years ago he will "fade into the darkness" when he's done.
And he's nearly done. In his 21st season, Garnett has been relegated to veteran leader and mentor who doesn't play in the second half of back-to-back games. Minnesota coach Sam Mitchell, not caught up in the "KG's potential last game in Boston" nostalgia, held Garnett out of Monday's 113-99 Celtics victory after he played a mere 10 minutes Sunday in Brooklyn.
Garnett signed a two-year deal with the Timberwolves this past summer.
"In back-to-backs it's very difficult for me, regardless of what I look like out here," Garnett said. "I think that's a tribute to obviously a work ethic, making 39 look like 25 years old. It's very hard. It's very hard to even come into this building and not want to play."
Sensing that this could be it, the TD Garden crowd serenaded Garnett all evening. And to add to the drama, Garnett dressed in his warmups, working up a sweat pregame tossing passes to his teammates for shots.
Mitchell wasn't going to give Garnett a ceremonial appearance. He snapped at questions regarding the TD Garden crowd after the game. Garnett respected his coach's wishes and freely admitted his 39-year-old body couldn't stand even a minute's worth of playing time. It was an exaggeration, but also an admission that Garnett is mortal, nearing the end.
"We want KG" chants reigned all night, and when the Celtics had sealed the game and the Jumbotron played "The American Bandstand" clip of the dancer sporting the Gino Vannelli T-shirt, Garnett, who thoroughly enjoyed that during his Celtics time, rose to his feet, smiled with glee, and finally acknowledged the crowd.
"At times no [it didn't seem like I've left] to be honest," Garnett said afterward. "I think I'll always have that kind of reaction here. Boston has always been a special place in my heart, probably always will. Tonight was dope. Outcome wasn't the way I wanted it to be. It was a great homecoming. It felt really good to be in the building."
Garnett, a man near anonymous off the court in Boston but so very brazen on it, understands that the adulation will soon conclude. He will eventually disappear; perhaps show up to the 10th anniversary of the 2008 championship team three years from now.
Realizing his place in the game, firm in Boston sports history despite just a six-year stint with the Celtics, and his impact on the resurrection of the franchise, Garnett briefly addressed his current situation. He's a mentor. His skills are decaying but his voice still pierces teammates.
"They're keeping me young, at times," Garnett said. "The overall experience is a great one, to be honest. We got some good young guys who are going to be very promising in the future. I'm looking forward to it. I'm having some fun here, but there's never a dull moment around here, I'll tell you that. Wish we could have won tonight's game, but it is what it is. The Celtics played really well tonight and back to the drawing board tomorrow."
We believed Garnett would retire before he would be the ninth-leading scorer for a team. He has scored 74 points in 24 games. His season high in minutes is 24. His season high in points is 8.
It seemed inconceivable Garnett would stay long enough to put up such pedestrian numbers, or be physically unable to produce on a night when the TD Garden merely wanted to see a rebound, blocked shot, or a growl on pick-and-roll defense.
But he has accepted his fate. For Garnett to remain an NBA player, he needs to be more mentor than power forward. He needs to be more of a guide than defensive enforcer. The Timberwolves have enough big guys to score and protect the rim, but what they don't have is someone to teach them how to be professionals.
The importance of mentors in a league where the players are so young, influential, and reek of invincibility is essential.
Just look at Philadelphia, where rookie Jahlil Okafor has essentially been allowed to roam with no veteran presence, and the result was an embarrassing fighting episode outside of a Boston bar.
Garnett may not be as useful as he was seven years ago, when he was the most valuable player on the league's best team. But he still serves a purpose, and this role is acceptable for him because he enjoys being part of the game.
And he knows, when he stops playing, he'll turn the lights out and "Fade into the darkness."
So just enjoy what Garnett we have left.