Kevin Garnett’s 21-year NBA has come to an end. The 40-year-old power forward, who spent last season playing sparingly for the Minnesota Timberwolves, announced his retirement on his Instagram page.
Garnett is a surefire Hall-of-Famer, and will go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history. He jumped straight from high school to the pros in 1995 and started 43 games as a 19-year-old for the Timberwolves during his rookie year, averaging 10 points and six rebounds in just under 30 minutes per game. By the end of his second season, one in which he averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and 1.4 steals per game, he had established himself as one of the most dominant forces in the league and changed the face of the game. Before Garnett, the idea that players could skip college was considered nonsensical; after, it was considered received wisdom, to the point where the NBA had to institute rules forcing players to have a gap year of some kind to keep the NCAA racket going.
From there Garnett sustained a career peak that rivals those of the greatest big men in league history. He went on a 10-year in run in Minnesota in which he was, essentially, a perfect basketball player. From 1997-2007, Garnett averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. He did this while shooting 49 percent from the floor and playing just a shade under 40 minutes per game.
The only thing that could ever outshine Garnett’s statistics was the actual experience of watching him play. Tim Duncan’s calm mastery of the court and kinesthetic genius was its own kind of fun, but it was fun you sometimes had to go looking for. Garnett was a stampede in a jersey; there was no escaping him.
Garnett brought a ferocity most players can only ever muster for the occasional poster dunk to every aspect of his game. His on-ball defense was just as punishing as his flights to the rim; he snapped off that unblockable mid-range jumper with the same burst he used to block shots and hunt rebounds; he called out defensive assignments as if they were matters of life and death. Garnett only ever played at one speed, and that speed was:
Yeah, the whole BASKETBALL IS WAR! mentality got a little old at times, especially after Garnett had escaped to Boston to claim his championship ring; his on-court tough-guy routine was always more grating than it was intimidating, and the rest of the league eventually figured out that there was never any bite behind all his barking. If you never once rolled your eyes at Garnett head butting the basket stanchion or clapping in an opponent’s face, you probably never rooted for a team he didn’t play for.
Still, what you can’t say is that his over-the-top intensity wasn’t genuine. Remember, this is the dude who once put his head through a wall over an episode of Making the Band:
At any given time, there a few truly great players in the NBA, and a few truly crazy ones. What made Garnett so much fun to watch was that he managed to belong to both groups at the same time. It’s fun to watch a transcendent player spend 40 minutes throttling his opponents at both ends of the court; it’s even more fun when that same player shouts “Goddamn bar fight! Goddamn bar fight, man!” at Craig Sager after the game. The game’s worse off for Garnett not being on the court, but it seems a pretty good bet he’ll stay involved in the league in some capacity forever, breaking young players psychologically and building them back up by teaching them intricate footwork, and in all making sure that everyone knows that basketball is not a goddamn game.