Prior to joining the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett's passion and intensity made him one of the NBA's most likable players.
During his 12-year tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves, his competitive snarl and primal screams showed his ferocity, as Garnett played each game as if it were his last.
Minnesota was never a true contender, as the team's management could never assemble much talent around their superstar forward. Garnett was the league's lovable loser and everyone wanted to see him win a ring because they felt he deserved it.
And he did just that when the Celtics acquired him last season. But with winning, came a side of Garnett that we had not previously seen.
An unlikable, obnoxious side that has been rearing its ugly head for much of this season.
For some time, I had heard stories about Garnett's off-court behavior.
One such instance involved the All-Star confronting a reporter who had used a quote in one of his articles that made Garnett come off as not so intelligent.
Similarly, Detroit News ran a story not too long ago that bluntly stated, "Garnett can be a jerk. He is rude to ball boys and locker-room attendants. He gets himself so intensely wound before games, he's even a jerk to his teammates at times."
But you can't always believe what you hear, so I reserved my judgment.
That's until this behavior started occurring on the court, for all the world to see.
These situations, like the ones detailed in the Detroit News' article, involved an "intensely wound" Garnett who showed little respect to both his opponents or teammates.
The first confrontation involved Jose Calderon, the 6-foot-3 point guard for the Toronto Raptors. The two began trash talking, and things became heated as the team's headed to their benches during a timeout, with Garnett pointing in the guard's face and barking at him as he made his way up the court.
Instances such as this one happen often in the NBA and if isolated, this wouldn't have been an issue. But just several nights later, Garnett harassed Milwaukee Bucks' point guard Luke Ridnour throughout the game and was involved in an altercation with center Andrew Bogut as well.
This resulted in a one-game suspension for the Celtics' star and led one league executive to label Garnett as "nothing but an instigator."
The NBA let everyone know that they would be keeping their eyes on Garnett and that his actions would not be tolerated. But did that stop Kevin? Not quite.
Several games later, he would be involved in a heated exchange with Portland Trailblazers' point guard, Jerryd Bayless. But not only did Garnett take things too far with Bayless, he ended up looking ridiculous.
After Portland inbounded the ball, he got on his hands and knees, snarled and barked at the point guard, and then continued to talk trash during later possessions. Is he trying to be intimidating? Does he think that he's scary to these smaller guards? In reality, he made a fool of himself.
One person who does find him intimidating is his Celtics' teammate, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who was reduced to tears on the Boston bench after being yelled at by Garnett. It is moments such as this one where Kevin's intensity and passion are taken too far and he hurts rather than helps his team.
While all of these situations show the Boston big man acting obnoxious, you can argue that he's not hurting anything (aside from Glen Davis' feelings) and his actions aren't that big of a deal.
But what happens when Garnett does start putting others in danger? We've witnessed it several times since he joined the Celtics. One thing that he has perfected since leaving Minnesota is setting cheap screens that leave his opposition flat on the floor.
The Celtics have had much success with Garnett and it seems to have hurt the way he handles losing. While hard screens are going to happen in basketball, Garnett's cheap shots stem from frustration and show a lack of sportsmanship.
In last year's first round playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks, Garnett exchanged words with Hawks' center Zaza Pachulia. In the following game, he would step right in front of an unsuspecting Pachulia as the Celtics advanced the ball to half court. It was completely unnecessary and uncalled for.
Another example of this dangerous behavior occurred just last night when the Celtics found themselves behind late in the fourth quarter against the underdog Golden State Warriors.
With one minute and 20 seconds left in the game and Boston trailing by nine points, Garnett threw his body in front of the Warriors' Marco Belinelli, injuring the young guard. He then jawed with Belinelli until the game concluded and ended up looking like a sore loser.
While the NBA has suspended him once, they must continue to punish Garnett. He seems to think he is above the rules and the officials have only affirmed this with their no-calls.
What other player could bark, scream, or point in a player's face without being called for a technical? Nobody. If the NBA was indeed, "keeping an eye" on Garnett, wouldn't he be getting called for taunting or thrown out of games for leveling much smaller players?
There is no question that the Celtics are a talented team and Garnett is a huge reason for their success. He's one of the best big men in the league and until this season, had the respect and support of myself as well as many other basketball fans.
But with his recent behavior, he has become very hard to root for and his descent from fan favorite to bully has been tough on those who once cheered for him.
But it is what it is and clearly Garnett isn't going to change his ways. That is why the NBA needs to take a stand and show him that no matter how much his team continues to win, he can't disregard all rules and mistreat his peers.
As with any bully, he needs to be punished for his actions and watched closely to make sure he is behaving. While he has surely changed, suspending Garnett may just show us the extent of his transformation.
Would he continue to act out if his actions were hurting his team? If Kevin is the ultimate competitor whose intensity just gets out of control at times, isn't taking him away from the game the perfect way to show him that he has been crossing the line and it will not be tolerated?
If he stops, these altercations will be a thing of the past and Garnett can work on fixing his tarnished image.
But if he continues to cause problems, we'll all see that he clearly wasn't the passionate, team oriented player that we once thought and as disapointing as this would be, at least basketball will have removed the bully from the playground.
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