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Public Enemy #5: has Kevin Garnett changed, or have we?

One thing about being a basketball junkie is it has allowed me to view the game, and its players, through a variety of prisms for many, many years, and in doing so, it has afforded me the opportunity to see players grow from rookies to veterans and from veterans to legends. Some of those players are some that I may not care for a whole lot, but their impact on the game, and their respect for the game makes me value and appreciate them just as much as people who Stan for them.

On the other hand, when it’s a player that is one of my favorites who ever did it, there’s a sort of fan obligation to defend them from accusations, slander, and other nonsense from my fellow fans in basketball-viewing. No other situation has this taken shape in the player who is my second-favorite player who ever lived: the one and only Kevin Garnett.

This year has been open season on Kevin Garnett, with everyone from fellow players, coaches, and fans taking shots at KG. Some say he goes overboard; others say he’s a fake tough guy. There are accusations that he has a foul mouth, and the list goes on. The thing that makes this troubling is not that people are saying it, but it is because they say this like it’s something new. The root of it (for some) is he’s not the same guy that he was in Minnesota, and that he didn’t engage in said tactics when he was with the Wolves, and if so, it wasn’t at this high a volume.

At the sight of such proclamations, the first reaction from me is pretty straight-forward: bwaaaaahahahahahahahaahahaha! It's so far from reality that it's a joke. People, stop being sheep, and think for yourselves. Some folks who claimed to love Garnett say they can't stand him now, and it makes me wonder exactly why. Well, leave it to today's post for us to break down Garnett, where he has come from as a basketball player, and why he is who he is today.

For me, Kevin Garnett is defined in three phases: The Kid, The Big Ticket, and KG. To me, it’s pretty simple and while these three phases are all the same guy, breaking this down allows me to take you on a journey of why I think we see what we see now. By doing so, the people who are saying what they’re saying about Garnett may have to force themselves to look in the mirror, as opposed to throwing stones at an easy target.

The Kid is the early version of Garnett that anyone who loves Garnett remembers initially. He looked like he was about 125 pounds, lost as hell on the court, but was lauded by folks who said he would re-define the small forward position. He was a showman, which was exhibited by him putting on slam-dunk contests with Shawn Kemp during All-Star weekend practices, and was already a fiery competitor, as evidenced by him refusing to let Glen Rice get the last bucket to break Wilt Chamberlain All-Star Game record for points in a half (he eventually got the record from shooting free throws at the end.) The joy, enthusiasm, recklessness, and intensity were all there; it was just so early that it was passed along as childhood innocence.

The Big Ticket is the second version of Garnett, which unofficially began when he signed The Contract. The Contract is the six-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Wolves in 1999. At the time, folks were a mix of disbelief and excitement. There were some people who said there’s no way you give him this deal, while others said it was a sign that The Kid arrived and was ready to carry the league into the next decade.

Garnett held onto that kid-like enthusiasm that we came to love him for, but it was slowly fading away, which is understandable, due to the circumstances of his role on the team, as well as the natural process of evolution.

He was even more intense, more confrontational, more competitive, and he had the game to back it up. We saw that as he continued to fail to get out of the first round of the playoffs, and when he finally got some help in 2003-04, he won the MVP, led his team past the first round and into a second round matchup with the Sacramento Kings.

It’s in this series with the Kings where some folks like to say Garnett is a chump. They say this is an example of him being all bark, no bite, but if you look at the entire sequence, as well as what was on the line, then it gives you a better explanation of why not reacting helped set the stage to add to his legacy.

In Game Six, Anthony Peeler got hit with a cheap shot from behind by Wally Szczerbiak, and by the time Peeler recovered, Garnett was behind him. Well, Peeler did what some others would have done as well; he threw an elbow at who was behind him, which just happened to be Garnett. Garnett crumples to the floor, Peeler takes off for an easy Kings bucket, and all is well, right? Wrong.

Garnett gets up, throws a shoulder at Peeler and Peeler cracks him in the jaw with an elbow. All hell is on the verge of breaking loose, women are hiding their children, men are hiding under their seats, and the powers-that-be are terrified that the reigning MVP is about to lose his damn mind for getting stole on.

However, Garnett does nothing. Peeler ends up being suspended for two games, the Kings go on to win Game Six, and Garnett has one of the greatest Game Sevens in the history of basketball by finishing with 32-21-2-5-4 (points-boards-assists-blocks-steals). I remember that line, because I recorded the game on my VCR and have seen it at least 500 times.

Just think for a second; if Garnett does retaliate, he’s out of Game Seven, and the Kings play the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. If you don’t believe me, ask the Knicks when they rushed the court and half their damn team got suspended for the last two games against Miami in the 1997 Playoffs. How did that turn out for 'em?

Anyway, that was the closest the Wolves would get. Just like that, the team fell apart, and Garnett was left to figure it out with an undermanned squad all over again. After that, we saw The Interview:

No matter what people thought about Garnett, they all knew this was a man who respected the game, what it stood for, and even people who didn’t necessarily care for him wanted him to get the hell outta Minnesota and have a legitimate opportunity at a championship, and in order for him to do that, the final transition took place: the transition from The Big Ticket to KG.

KG is the man we see now. He’s a culmination of someone who has always been competitive, intense, passionate, and cares about winning. The blood, sweat, and tears that have always been there are still there. The Kid is long gone and only to be seen on NBA TV and in other highlights from back in the day. The Big Ticket is gone as well, which can be attributed to sacrificing for team, as well as the introduction of Father Time. He’s the defensive presence on the best defensive team in basketball for the past four seasons, and is someone who has re-defined himself as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate each and every season.

He’s not the same player, skill-wise, that he used to be, but all of the antics are still there. It just so happens that they aren’t covered up by his immense talent on the court anymore. He talked crazy in 1996, 2003, and 2011. He threw elbows then, talked crazy to opponents, and had his teammates backs just as much in Minnesota as he does in Boston. Why are you mad at him now for things he has done his entire career?

People say he’s not the same player since he won a ring. Well, what do you expect? He finally figured out what it takes to win, and with that, there’s a sense of urgency to do it over and over again. The man languished in losing for years, and there’s no way he wants anything remotely resembling that around him anymore.

With this said, should fans be mad at KG for continuing to have the same traits that made us love him from the very beginning, despite Father Time coming in and taking a step or two away? If KG abandoned those traits, wouldn’t he be charged with disrespecting the game? Yes, you can say Kevin Garnett has changed, but if you want to be honest in why you don’t like him anymore, take a look in the mirror and admit that you have changed as well.

Be easy.
-K. Masenda
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk (and hopefully on the radio soon) show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!


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