ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan wrote an awesome story about Kevin Garnett, who at 39 years old has been called on by the Minnesota Timberwolves to mentor the team’s crop of talented young players in his famously intense style. The story is great because it goes beyond just pointing at Garnett’s lunatic persona and going, “Heh, what a crazy guy! It’s so fun how he yells at those youngsters!” Instead, MacMullan honestly interrogates Garnett’s leadership qualities, and finds that he can be both a wizened basketball sage and a mean-spirited bully. With that said, and under the assumption that you will go and read the whole story, let’s take a moment to chuckle at Garnett being a nutjob.
The story opens with an anecdote from Doc Rivers, who once had the audacity to ask Garnett to sit out a practice while coaching him in Boston. Garnett, of course, couldn’t let his teammates see him taking a day off:
Garnett, forbidden to take the floor by his own coach, had concocted his revenge: He would track the movements of power forward Leon Powe, the player who had replaced him in the lineup. As Powe pivoted, so did Garnett. As Powe leaped to grab a defensive rebound, Garnett launched himself to corral an imaginary ball. As Powe snapped an outlet pass, Garnett mimicked the motion, then sprinted up his slim sliver of sideline real estate as Powe filled the lane on the break. The players were mirror images: one on the court with a full complement of teammates, the other out of bounds, alone. Two men engaged in a bizarre basketball tango.
“KG,” Rivers barked, “if you keep doing this, I’m canceling practice for the whole team. That will hurt us.”
Garnett’s reverence for coaches was legendary, but still he turned his back on Rivers. He returned to his defensive stance, an isotope of intensity, crouched, palms outstretched, in complete concert with Powe. He was, in fact, becoming so adept at this warped dalliance he’d invented, he actually began to anticipate Powe’s movements, denying the entry pass to his invisible opponent before Powe thought of it.
Finally, an exasperated Rivers blew the whistle. “Go home,” Rivers instructed his team. Then he glared at Garnett. “I hope you’re happy.”
KG really is one of a kind.