Friday was a sad day for basketball fans as Kevin Garnett took to Instagram to announce his retirement from the NBA after 21 seasons.
As a Celtics fan, I didn’t truly appreciate KG until he came to Boston. Watching from afar while he was in Minnesota, I just knew that he was a great player who had a lot of passion and loved to trash talk. It wasn’t until I started watching him every night that I began to realize just how great of a leader he was and how infectious his never quit attitude could be. Not only to his teammates, but to the fans and everyone who followed those Celtics teams from 2007-2013. KG had the city of Boston on fire from the start of the 07-08 season. From the epic intros with him screaming on the jumbotron to starting the season with eight straight wins, he won us over right away. The Garden was officially the place to be, and it was all because of number five. He had that place rocking every night and he absolutely loved it:
Anytime he’s asked about Celtics fans, Kevin can’t help but rave about the energy that they bring every night and how he was able to feed off of it. The truth is that we as Celtics fans fed off of KG’s energy even more. He made us confident in our team for the first time in a while. We no longer had to wonder what kind of effort they would give on a night-to-night basis. As soon as we saw him banging his head against the padding at base of the hoop, making his way around the court pounding his chest and getting us all riled up to the sounds of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle”, we knew that our squad was ready to play.
If they weren’t, Garnett would talk some sense into them real quick. There were numerous occasions where he could be seen getting into teammates’ ears on the bench. The one that stands out the most is the time he actually reduced Glen “Big Baby” Davis to tears on national television:
He was the prime example of a true professional. Someone who dedicated his life to his craft and wouldn’t settle for being less than the best he could possibly be. He expected the same from his teammates and he usually got it from them.
What made that Celtics team so special was the way they came together and got right to work. They didn’t buy into the hype and they didn’t believe they were the new team to beat because they knew they had prove it on the court first.
KG was the reason they had this mentality. He immediately started leading by example as soon as he was introduced in his first Celtics press conference. KG did not guarantee championships like LeBron did in his infamous “not 7, not 8” speech when he was acquired by the Miami Heat. Instead, he said “I wouldn’t go that far and say that we’re the team to beat because we still have things to prove. We still have to work on chemistry and bonding but I will say that we will be a force to be reckoned with.”
You can’t argue with the results of his approach. The 07-08 Celtics started off the season 29-3 and never looked back, cruising to a 66-16 record and bringing Boston it’s first NBA title since 1986. The 10-11 Heat stumbled out the gates to a 9-8 start and eventually found their footing before being upset by the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals. All this after acting like they were the greatest team ever assembled before even playing a game together. Kevin Garnett knew that wasn’t the way to build a winning team.
As serious as he was in between the lines, KG was always lighthearted when the time was right, especially after a big win. Gino Time always brought a smile to his face in the closing minutes of a blowout at the Garden, and he’s given some of the funniest post-game interviews we’ll ever see. Here’s a collection of just a few:
Everything that Garnett says is well thought out. He’s a deep thinker who loves to create analogies to put situations into perspective. I enjoyed listening to him talk just as much as I enjoyed watching him play. I always said that if there’s one athlete I’d want to interview, it would be KG.
From the bully analogy after winning the championship to the bar fight interview after a big road win to his message to the haters after going up 3-2 on the Heat in 2012, you could spend a whole day on YouTube watching Kevin Garnett interviews and press conferences. There are too many classics to fit in this article, but a “Best Interviews Of KG’s Career” article is definitely in the works.
The only frustrating part of KG’s time in Boston was the fact that he should have won more championships. The C’s started off the 08-09 season 27-2, highlighted by a 19-game winning streak. On February 19th, 2009 they were 44-11 and well on their way to another championship when Garnett went down with a knee injury. The Celtics did what they could without the Big Ticket but were eventually eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Orlando Magic. There isn’t anyone on this planet who can tell me with a straight face that the Celtics wouldn’t have beat the Dwight Howard-led Magic if KG were on the floor.
While most people would point to that 2007-08 championship season as the highlight of KG’s tenure in Boston, what made me truly appreciate him were the years that followed. When Garnett and Allen were acquired, the Celtics were given a three-year window to raise banner 17 due to the old-age of the Big Three. They were able to accomplish that in year one. The goal then became banner 18, and watching an aging Celtics team fight for that second ring when all of the critics thought they were dead in the water was one of the more inspiring sports stories that I have ever witnessed and Kevin Garnett was the driving force behind it.
In 2009-10, the Celtics finished with a 50-32 record and were not expected to make a deep run into the playoffs. Under the leadership of Pierce and KG, they upset Lebron’s Cavs, made it back to the finals against the Lakers, and were a Kendrick Perkins injury away from another ring.
After a second round playoff loss to the fully loaded Miami Heat in 2011, it seemed as though the Celtics’ run that was supposed to have been over after KG’s injury in 09 was finally coming to a close. That was until they came roaring back the next year and somehow found themselves in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals where they prepared for a rematch against the Heat. Miami was heavily favored, but thanks to the grit and balls of Pierce and Garnett’s Celtics, they found themselves down 3-2 to Boston after five games.
Of course the Heat eventually won in 7 games, but no one in Celtics nation was hanging their head after that series. The C’s were a team of aging stars whose championship window was supposed to have closed three years prior and they had no business even being in the ECF that year. And while many C’s fans will tell you that the poor officiating had a lot to do with the outcome of that series, the Celtics, being the true professionals that they were, never made excuses.
Who knows, maybe they would have shocked the world with another deep playoff run the next year if Ray Allen didn’t jump ship and join the dark side.
It was hard to let go when Garnett and Pierce were shipped to Brooklyn over three years ago. Now KG is calling it quits for good and we’re faced with the reality that the NBA will never be the same. There isn’t a single player in the league currently who has the competitive fire that he had and there probably never will be again. You just know it’s killing him to make this decision because the guy never wanted to stop playing basketball, but father time has caught up to him. His hard work never went unnoticed in Boston and he’ll always be appreciated here for restoring Celtics pride and helping to raise a 17th banner to the Garden rafters. The only way we can repay him is by raising his number five up there too. Let’s make it happen.
Thank you KG.
PS: This Adidas commercial sums up everything that Kevin Garnett meant to Boston:
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour