KG, the Oral History, Part 2: Glory in Boston, Quirky Traits and Returning Home

Howard Beck@@HowardBeckNBA Senior WriterMay 18, 2015

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett yells after the Timberwolves defeated the Sacramento Kings 83-80 in the final game of the NBA Western Conference semifinal series, in Minneapolis on Wednesday, May 19, 2004.(AP Photo/Andy King)
ANDY KING/Associated Press

Few athletes have left as deep an imprint on their sport as Kevin Garnett has on the NBA. As KG celebrates his 39th birthday, a collection of players, coaches and executives recount what made him such a unique and transformational figure over the last 20 seasons.

This is Part 2 of B/R's oral history of Garnett's NBA career. Part 1 is here and accessible through the links below.

Click to Other Sections

• Workout wonder
• Preps-to-pros pioneer
• Intensity is a constant state of mind
• What could have been
• Money makes the NBA go 'round
• Getting under everyone's skin
• Trouble with the Timberwolves 
• Bound for Boston
• At long last, a ring
• Quirks, habits and virtues
• A joyous homecoming

Though Garnett quickly evolved into a dazzling, dominant player in Minnesota, he grew frustrated with the Timberwolves' postseason failures, opening the door for a career-changing trade to Boston, where he found ultimate success while honing a reputation as one of the league's most interesting characters.


For most of his Minnesota career, Garnett was a superstar surrounded by bit players, a solo act in search of a worthy co-star.

The Timberwolves granted Stephon Marbury's wish on March 11, 1999, sending him to the Nets in a three-team trade that brought point guard Terrell Brandon, a two-time All-Star, to Minnesota. Though talented, Brandon was undersized (5'11"), and his career was cut short by injuries.

The next co-star to audition was Wally Szczerbiak, a sweet-shooting forward drafted with the sixth pick in 1999. But the chemistry was poor from the start and their relationship bottomed out when Garnett and Szczerbiak scuffled in the trainer's room in November 2000.

Chauncey Billups spent two years on the roster, from 2000-02, but he did not reach stardom until years later, in Detroit. Tom Gugliotta had his best seasons alongside Garnett, in 1996-97 and 1997-98, but the Timberwolves let him go after the 1998 lockout to save salary-cap room, presumably for Marbury.

Meanwhile, Garnett's behemoth contract, which was grandfathered in after the lockout, made it extraordinarily difficult for Timberwolves officials to acquire elite talent. And the Timberwolves sabotaged themselves along the way, agreeing to an illegal deal with Joe Smith that cost the franchise multiple first-round picks as part of the NBA's punishment.

LOS ANGELES - MAY 1:  Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves wipes his eyes during game six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on May 1, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 101-85.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Despite his immense talents, Garnett became a playoff footnote, losing in the first round seven straight years from 1997 to 2003, never winning more than 51 games in a season.

Flip Saunders, Timberwolves coach, 1995-2005; 2014-present: It was difficult. We traded Steph, we got Terrell, who was pretty good. We also got Wally Szczerbiak in the deal, who became an All-Star. What you have to have is not just a star, but you have to have two dynamic stars. To get a guy that maybe can be an All-Star—that might not be good enough back then.

Steve Aschburner, Timberwolves beat writer for Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1994-2007: I think [Garnett] felt like Wally was overrated, I think he resented that this guy that was sort of becoming his sidekick without any real chemistry and not enough chops. … There was no chemistry there between them, at all.

Sam Mitchell, Timberwolves teammate, 1995-2002: A lot of that stuff is overblown. Kevin respected Wally, because Wally could play. Wally loved to play. Now, Wally wasn't the greatest defender, but when it came to scoring the basketball, Wally can score.

Kevin McHale, Timberwolves general manager 1995-2008: They were different people. They never seemed to have great chemistry, [but ] I don't think it was as bad as everybody said it was. They had their moments. Wally made an All-Star team with Kevin. He wasn't a great passer, wasn't a great creator. [But] he played well with Kevin. In my time there, nobody played better with Kevin than Gugliotta. You can look at some of the stuff they did together. Very, very impressive.

Flip Saunders: KG's the most unassuming superstar, in that he had more gratification passing the ball than scoring. So he didn't care about shooting, where Wally, that's all he cared about. So he got Wally a lot of shots.

ORLANDO - MARCH 27:  (l to r) Starters Wally Szczerbiak #10, Kevin Garnett #21, Anthony Peeler #44, Joe Smith #32 and Troy Hudson #16 of the Minnesota Timberwolves huddle prior to the NBA game against the Orlando Magic at TD Waterhouse Centre on March 27,
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Steve Aschburner: When Wally got his extension, [the media] broke the news to KG before shootaround. The look on Garnett's face—he was working his molars over the fact that this guy's going to be here long-term now, and being paid a whole bunch of money and that's going to get in the way of certain kinds of improvement they could make in that team.   

Andy Miller, Garnett's agent since 1995: I think that that was the thing that probably caused the most turmoil. … Kevin always wants to be successful, always wants to win, wants the team to have success, wants everyone to shine. When you have constant frustration, always trying to plug a hole, and every year you end up with the same results, it's extraordinarily frustrating.

Terry Porter, Timberwolves guard, 1995-98We just didn't have enough weapons. … You know, [Garnett] wasn't the type of guy that was going take over a team and carry a team back then. And they were in the Western Conference, so it became more of a challenge early on. I remember us playing Houston in the first round. He had a great series; we just didn't have enough.

Steve Aschburner: Glen Taylor pissed off his peers by signing Garnett to that contract, but nobody's team suffered worse than Glen Taylor's.

Finally, in 2003, the Timberwolves made two dramatic trades, acquiring point guard Sam Cassell from Milwaukee and swingman Latrell Sprewell from New York, providing Garnett the best supporting cast of his Minnesota career. The Timberwolves won 58 games, a franchise record, and Garnett won the Most Valuable Player award after averaging 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals.

NIKKI BOERTMAN/Associated Press

That spring, Garnett won the first two playoff series of his career, leading the top-seeded Timberwolves into the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, who had added Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant core. But Cassell entered the series with a badly injured hip, sustained in the second round, and his play suffered. He sat down for good after Game 4 of the series, with the Wolves trailing 3-1. The Lakers prevailed in six games, and Garnett lost his best chance to bring a title to the Twin Cities.

Despite a 44-win season, the Timberwolves missed the playoffs the next year, then parted ways with Sprewell and Cassell. They have not made the postseason since.

Flip Saunders: We would have won that year. … We were the No. 1 seed. I still believe, if Sam wouldn't have got hurt, that we would have beat the Lakers and I think we probably would have beaten Detroit (in the Finals) that year. 

Glen Taylor, Timberwolves owner: We went out and [acquired] those guys, [and spent] more money than we could afford. … I think everything went the way we planned it, except the injuries. And that's been our misfortune ever since, the god-darn injuries.

Dwane Casey, Timberwolves head coach, 2005-07: In conversation, [Kevin] would let it be known that that was something that he was frustrated with, that they broke up the team that had gone to the Western Conference Finals.

Steve Aschburner: He was really fed up. He wasn't the one raising his hand or making demands in the media to exit, because he is a very loyal person. But I think he felt kind of betrayed by the inability of McHale and the organization to come through for him.

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 24:  Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves can't bear to watch the final moments of overtime after he fouled out against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2003 NBA Playoff
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Terry Porter: [Garnett] knew at the end of the day, he was going to be judged by his playoff appearances.… He cares about how he's looked upon and what his legacy looks like.

Kevin McHale: He thought, "I have to do more. I have to do more." Really, there was nothing more he could do.

Steve Aschburner: I remember after the Boston-Cleveland [playoff series in 2010], when LeBron got eliminated by the Celtics. And Garnett told us from the podium, about how he told LeBron about how fast things go. To me, that was Garnett basically saying, "I wish I hadn't signed that last extension, because look how long it took me to get somewhere where I really could win." That was pretty telling.

The Trade

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

By 2007, Garnett and the Timberwolves had reached a crossroads.

The Sam Cassell-Latrell Sprewell era had been short-lived, with each star alienating the front office over contract demands. At age 31, Garnett's window to chase a championship was diminishing. And the Timberwolves, stymied by their own missteps, and handcuffed by Garnett's massive salary—and with another contract extension on the horizon—decided it was time to set a new course.

What was once inconceivable became essential: The franchise would have to trade the greatest player to ever have graced the uniform.

Glen Taylor: I said to Kevin, "It's gonna take us a while again." … And I think he kind of says, "I'd like to win." I say, "I'm not sure I'm gonna get you that here as fast as you want." So I would say that he kind of was unsure.

Kevin McHale: It was hard on everybody. That really came down to just our owner having—and I think Glen was more than fair with everybody—a number he wanted to sign everybody with, and he tried to get the cap more cap-friendly. Kevin, just said he wanted X amount. It came down to a financial decision. It was hard.

Glen Taylor: I think now he says, "Glen you traded me. I didn't want to be traded." But I'm not sure it was quite that clear. I think he sent me some messages that "I want to get on a [contending] team."

BOSTON - NOVEMBER 7:  Paul Pierce #34 and Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics walk to the bench during the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 7, 2007 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Celtics won 119-93.  NOTE TO USER:
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Danny Ainge, Celtics GM: Because Kevin and I were such close friends, we had numerous conversations over the years [about Garnett]. We realized that Paul [Pierce] and KG would be a great combination. We thought that they really complemented each other well. So we discussed the possibility of Paul going to Minnesota or KG coming to Boston, like which way is the best way to do it.

Phil Jackson, Lakers head coach, 1999-2004; 2005-2011: When I realized that [Garnett] was available and wanted to leave Minnesota, I put a big push on (to acquire him).

Andy Miller: Cleveland was involved. They were a distant third in the whole thing.

Glen Taylor: L.A. really wanted him. Well, I didn't know if I wanted him in the West. I thought I was getting better players. I thought L.A could not give me the players that Boston did.

The Lakers offered a package built around multi-skilled forward Lamar Odom and 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum, a promising second-year player who would eventually become an All-Star. Odom had a history of flaky behavior, however, and Bynum was unproven.

The Celtics' package was built around another talented, but still-developing young center, Al Jefferson, along with several other young players and draft picks.

Phil Jackson: Dr. [Jerry] Buss came to me and said, "I have a handshake agreement with Taylor, that he's going to come to L.A. But McHale hasn't concurred yet." So I said, "Well that's a good excuse." You always, as an owner, say, "I'll do this, but …" So I kept that hope out there, that he was gonna be a part of the Laker organization.

Taylor: Odom, I was a little afraid of. I thought Bynum was gonna be a star.

Miller: I think that what McHale was looking for, on top of picks, was a core young piece, and he was infatuated with Al Jefferson at the time.

MINNEAPOLIS -  JANUARY 30:  Al Jefferson #7 of the Boston Celtics looks to make a move around Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves January 30, 2006 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
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Glen Taylor: It became the Lakers, and it became Boston. And they both said, what does [Garnett] want to get paid? And I told them what he wants to get paid. I told them the kind of contract. And those two teams said they would do it.

On July 31, 2007, the Timberwolves sent Garnett to Boston, in exchange for Al Jefferson, four other players and two first-round picks. Many experts considered the Lakers' offer of Odom and Bynum to be the stronger package. The deal between Ainge and McHale, close friends and former Celtics teammates, stoked suspicion that McHale was acting more in the interests of his former franchise.

Phil Jackson: I've always kind of hinted that, in fun. … Of course, it's easier to make a deal with someone you know. But the (main) thing was, get him out of the conference, get him to the East Coast, get him away from us, so we don't have to deal with him four times a year. So that makes sense. So that's understandable.

Glen Taylor: We went to Boston, and I got a deal with Boston and took it to Kevin, and he says, "No, I don't want to be traded." … Then they went out and got [Ray] Allen. I went back to Kevin and said to him, later on, "Well, they're still here, they want you." I thought he said, "OK" to me. I really did. … I don't know if he remembers it that way quite or not. Because he has said at different times, "I wished I could have stayed there." But I thought I asked him. I thought he agreed. In thinking back, my guess is Kevin wasn't sure which way he wanted to do it, and I made the decision for him, rather than he probably felt that I should have asked him again.

KG, Fulfilled

BOSTON - JUNE 17: Kevin Garnett #5, Ray Allen #20 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics pose for a photo with the NBA Champion trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Six of the NBA Finals at the TD Banknorth Garden on June 17, 2008
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Ultimately, the chance to join two other future Hall of Famers, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, persuaded Kevin Garnett to accept a trade to the Celtics, and to say goodbye to Minnesota, the only NBA home he had known.

In Boston, Garnett's impact was immediate and profound. The three stars were branded as co-equals, each dependent on the others to fulfill their championship dreams. But Garnett was the linchpin to the partnership, instantly becoming the Celtics' defensive conscience, their strongest voice and their emotional pulse.

The story of the Celtics' 2007-08 championship run is one of individual sacrifice. Garnett set the tone from Day 1, demanding a total commitment from everyone, then setting the example himself, by surrendering shots and individual glory.

The veterans all respected Garnett, and the Celtics' youngest starters, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, were instantly drawn to his unique magnetism. They followed his lead in everything, and reflected his steely on-court persona.

Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics head coach, 2004-13: It was before our first practice—our first meeting with Paul, Ray and Kevin. The first thing he talked about is, "Hey, we all say we're going to win a title, but what are you going to give up?" He challenged us right away. He was not f-----g around, and I love that about him.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11:  (L-R) Kevin Garnett and head coach Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics talk on the bench during Media Availability prior to Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on June 11, 2008 in Los
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Sam Mitchell: I remember when I was coaching in Toronto (in 2007), and we played the Boston Celtics in an exhibition in Rome. And Doc Rivers and Ray Allen pulled me to the side. They was like, "Man we need you to talk to KG." I was like, "What's wrong?" They said, "Man, he's just so intense. He don't need to do all that." So they thought he was trying to impress them. I said, "Doc, Ray, he's like this every day. Every day."

Danny Ainge: He changed everybody, from coaches to trainers to massage therapists, to the entire organization. I think that it was just his energy and enthusiasm. But also, it was the fact that he believed. He had this strong faith in what the team could be.

Paul Pierce: It wasn't about no bulls--t now. … The attitude around there was very boot camp-like. We're gonna go in here and do our work every day, and the laughing and the joking, that's out the window until maybe after practice or on the bus.

Brian Scalabrine, Celtics forward, 2005-10: Over the course of 82 games, or 110-some games like we played, a lot of guys can get real loose. He never allowed that. One day Leon Powe and I were cracking up on Eddie House's tattoo. … [Garnett] was like, "C'mon, Scal, it's time to rock! What the 'F' are you doing?" And I was like, "You know what? You're right. It is time to rock." We're about to play the Dallas Mavericks and we're over here messing around. It was 55 (minutes) on the clock or something like that. He was locked in and focused. That's how it is with him. If you want to be on the team, that's how it is going to be.

Paul Pierce: It probably made some guys uncomfortable, maybe [some felt he] need[ed] to tone it down. But I'm like, "No, that's Kevin. Y'all tell him to tone it down like it's a weakness, but that's his strength. He's gotta be like this. He's getting ready."

BOSTON - NOVEMBER 10:  Kevin Garnett #5 and Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics talk on the court during the game against the Toronto Raptors on November 10, 2008 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics won 94-87. NOTE TO USER: U
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Celtics forward, 2007-11: I think he goes down as one of the best leaders of all time, somebody that led by example, but also policed his teams and said what was right all the time, in spite of what other people think. You talk about a guy who made a sacrifice coming to Bostonhis role changed, he was more of a defender. He was a guy that kind of facilitated and kept us all together.

Danny Ainge: Doc would harp on him every day, like, "You gotta score more, you gotta shoot more. You gotta quit passing and you gotta shoot." KG, it just wasn't in his nature. He was such a team guy, and he cared so much about his teammates, and he cared about the camaraderie and the unity of our team, and was greatly affected by people that went off the reservation.

Doc Rivers: He's the best superstar role player I've ever seen. He's a superstar that can do everything, yet he gave himself to the team and played a role for the team to win, no matter what that took away from his individual stuff. I don't know if there's any superstar I've ever been around that is that unselfish.

Danny Ainge: Kendrick (Perkins) was a very important piece to a championship puzzle. Kevin knew that. He sort of took Perk under his wing and he loved Perk for how hard Perk played. Paul was always a great player. But Paul, all of a sudden, didn't have to carry the load (as the sole leader). … KG's presence just took a burden off of Paul, and freed him up to be what he was, which was a great scorer.

BOSTON - DECEMBER 19: Kendrick Perkins, Sam Cassell, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics pose with Usain Bolt after the game against the Chicago Bulls during the game on December 19, 2008 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston,
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Doc Rivers: He was prepared, you better be. If you messed up in shootaround, he knew it. So he kept me on the edge because you knew he was as prepared as the coaches, and it's rare you see that.

At the time the Celtics created their New Big Three, there were legitimate concerns about fit and chemistry, and legitimate questions about how long it might take for three towering talents to mesh. The answers came quicker than anyone could have predicted. The Celtics started the season 8-0, then ripped off two nine-game winning streaks, pushing their record to 29-3 on Jan. 5.

The Celtics finished with 66 wins, their best mark sine 1986. After a strenuous run through the Eastern Conference playoffs—it took seven games to beat Atlanta and Cleveland, six to beat Detroit—the Celtics landed in the Finals against their oldest rival (and the loser in the Garnett stakes), the Los Angeles Lakers.

Boston dominated, claiming the championship in six games and unleashing a raucous celebration at the new Boston Garden. Garnett averaged 18.2 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, 1.7 steals and one block per game in the series, while harassing the Lakers' Pau Gasol and piloting a Celtics defense that had the Lakers flummoxed.

As the green confetti fluttered, Garnett took the microphone and unleashed a primal scream for the ages, an instantly iconic moment in Finals history: "Anything is possssibllllle!"

Tyronn Lue, longtime friend of Garnett's, Cavaliers assistant coach: The proudest moment for me was when he won that championship, and I got a chance to see his emotions and how he reacted. It was the best thing for me.

Paul Pierce: Oh, man, he started crying. He broke down. When you saw that, it was just like, man, you felt him. You felt him. … And then he went to the ground. That's when you knew. When a guy breaks down, a guy with the personality of KG, [who] is so strong, and [he] breaks down, then it means something. It means something to you.

BOSTON - JUNE 17: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics sits in his locker after celebrating after the defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 17, 2008 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Celtics
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Chris Webber: I talked to him before he went to Boston. I knew what that was about. Think about it, that was his only chance. … That goes down as one of my favorite sporting moments, seeing him win the championship, because I knew what he was saying.

The era of the New Big Three would last another four seasons, but Garnett, Pierce and Allen would never reach that pinnacle again. Their title defense was undermined by a knee injury that forced Garnett to miss the entire 2009 postseason. The Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010 to face the Lakers again, but they lost Perkins to an injury in Game 6 and lost an epic Game 7 that went down to the final minute.

Age and injuries eventually took their toll and the Celtics' preeminence soon faded as the power shifted to a new Big Three rising in South Beach.

Paul Pierce: I had no doubt in my mindwe probably would have won 70 games that year (2008-09) if KG was healthy. And the rings. So it's all a lot of what-ifs, but you have that through history, with a lot of teams who didn't stay healthy after they won.

Danny Ainge: It would have been nice to win two. We were close. … Kevin, he gave hope to our franchise every day for six years.

Quirks, Habits and Virtues

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

What do you see when you look at Kevin Garnett? Over the years, he's alternately been viewed as a warrior and a bully, a fierce defender and a dirty player, a kind spirit and a mean person, an intimidator and a mentor. He is a tough opponent—playing on the edge and sometimes over itbut a fiercely loyal teammate. His intensity sometimes seems to border on insanity. His game-day rituals are legendary and quirky.

Before introductions every night, Garnett will sit in solitude on the bench. Before tipoff, he will skip around the court, bellowing to the crowd. And he will bang his head into the basket stanchion several times, while muttering to himself and tying his shorts.

"He's still a little nuts," said former Nets teammate Mason Plumlee. "Even on the court, he's different, but in a good way, man."

Good, bad or otherwise, Garnett's personality is as unique as his game.

Sam Mitchell: He's gonna do the same routine. He stretches the same, he sits down on the floor in front of his locker at the same time. He has his hot packs for his knees at the same time. He puts his shoes on a particular way.

Kendrick Perkins, Celtics teammate, 2007-11: Before the jump ball, he goes to the sections of the fans and is like [pounding his chest several times], "Motherf-----s!" He'll say a whole lot of [stuff]. And the fans just go crazy. And then he started getting cheers and, and you feed off that, right?

Jim LaBumbard, former Timberwolves PR director, now with Toronto: Even when he comes into town with visiting teams, I would never go say hi to him pregame, because I knew he was just locked in in just that way. It would just be like talking to a wall.

Sam Mitchell: He's game mode, all day. You keep waiting to say, is he gonna burn out doing it? But he doesn't, man.

Paul Pierce: He's gonna eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Every game. We didn't even have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until he got to Boston. So then he made our ball boys make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everybody. When KG was eating them, everybody started eating them.

Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

Doc Rivers: Before Game 6 in the (2008) Finals when we beat the Lakers, I walked in the locker room, and Kevin gets [hyped] up to where sometimes he goes over the line. You could see it. I had him come in my office and sit. He's sitting there five, 10, 15 minutes. I don't say a word. I just go back to work. He's moving around and finally he says, "I'm in a timeout. I'm in timeout." I didn't even respond. You could hear him: "Phew" (exhaling). But you think about a guy who has been in the league that long and is still that jacked up for a game that you literally have to calm him down. That's my favorite story.

Kendrick Perkins: It was in a playoff game. So we were down 10 or something in the third, double figures, coming back in the fourth. I remember him coming back on the defensive end. And you know how you get into (a defensive stance), you want to get low, like before the man crosses halfcourt. He literally about crawled on the ground and got up off his knees, like "Let me see it!" that type of [thing]. It was like, damn.

Tyronn Lue: A lot of people do all their howling on the court and they're faking just for attention, but what he does is genuine. So one day we were at his house and we were watching Puff Daddy's show Making the Band, and in one of the scenes, some new guys came in and were trying to sing and were trying to compete against the guys who had been there. And KG just got so hyped, "Motherf----r, you've got to stand up for yours! You've got to fight! Motherf----r, you've got to come together!" He's going crazy, he's sweaty. And he just head butts the wall and put a hole in the wall of his house.

Paul Pierce: Most guys, you get warmed up but you're gonna have a slight sweat. Well, he'd have a full sweat, like he already played four quarters of a game. That’s just him getting his mind right, getting his body right, ready to go. Everybody's got their routine. That's his routine. 

Flip Saunders: He hates change. If he had a chance, he’d keep 20 guys on the roster, and he'd pay those last five guys we had to cut. … He'd become attached to somebody in one week and didn’t want them to leave. So you’d always have to talk to him and kind of reason with him why you might be trading someone. And it’s funny, because many times the lower-end guys are the guys he has more of a soft spot, to try to help those guys out even more.

Sometimes, even opponents are graced by that softer side. For a young Dwyane Wade, it was when Garnett went out of his way to encourage him early in Wade’s rookie season, in 2003. Garnett followed up the next summer, too, seeking out Wade in Miami to offer his guidance and support. Countless young players have been mentored by Garnett over the last 20 years.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee of the Brooklyn Nets during practice as part of  the 2014 Global Games on January 15, 2014 at The O2 Arena in London, England. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
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Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat guard, 2003-present: I was a young kid. This is Kevin Garnett, MVP of the league. But he believed in me at that time. He wasn't my teammate. I didn't even know him that much. …But he pulled me aside, he talked to me for that weekend, and he let me know that I can be a star in this league. So that confidence from a guy like that, man, just went a long way.

Mason Plumlee, Garnett teammate with the Nets, 2013-15: The first time I met him, he just told me, "Look, I've done it all. I've been an All-Star, I’ve been MVP, I've won a championship." So he’s like, "Everything that I tell you is for you. It's coming from a place of success, a place ofyou know I want you to do well, because I've done it all." He's like, "I want to play and still be good, but I don't have to prove myself anymore." It's funny, he says that and then he plays as if to prove himself each night. I always remember that. That just gave me trust in everything he told me, that it wasn't for anything but my betterment.

Doc Rivers: He tries to teach the young guys professionalism firstnot basketball. … He bought them suits. He'd bring them in and get them all wired up and buy two or three suits for them, so they're dressed right. He told them, "If you're coming to work, you're coming in a suit and tie. You come to go to work." I never had to tell our young guys about being on time with him. You had him doing it.

The ultimate Kevin Garnett quirk? He refuses to accept the fact that makes him so unique: that he's a 7-footer with the skills of a guard. Since his first day in the NBA, Garnett has insisted—to every coach, trainer and public-relations official—that he be listed as 6',11".

Sam Mitchell: Oh, he'd get mad. He never wanted to be 7-foot. I think he always felt like if you list him at 7-feet, you'd put him at center. He never really wanted to play center.

Flip Saunders: He doesn't like labels. He didn't want to be labeled a center. So I used to call him 6-foot-13, because he's really 7'1".

Jim LaBumbard: He was adamant, from Day 1. ... I think we just kept him at 6'11". We just rolled with it. We've had other people come to us with requests on weight and things like that. To me it wasn't that big a deal. I just kind of laughed at it.

Flip Saunders: He never let anyone measure him.

The Return

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Though notoriously change-averse, Kevin Garnett has waived his no-trade clause three times. He went to Boston in 2007 to chase championships. When that window closed in 2013, he moved to Brooklyn, to join another team with title hopes. And when that pursuit fizzled, Garnett consented to one last move: back to the place he calls 'Sota.

On Feb. 19, with the trade deadline approaching, the Nets shipped Garnett to the Timberwolves in a swap for 26-year-old forward Thaddeus Young. For the Nets, it was strictly a basketball move, a chance to get younger and more athletic. For the Timberwolves, it was strictly about Kevin Garnett—his past and his future.

There was sentimentality in the deal, sure, and perhaps some marketing strategy at work, too. Amid another losing season, the Timberwolves needed a move to reenergize the fan base. But Garnett's value now transcends stats, ticket sales or winning percentages.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 25: Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves huddles with the team during the game against the Washington Wizards on February 25, 2015 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

The Timberwolves wanted Garnett for his influence, for his ferocity and for his self-discipline, for the impression he will make on their promising young players—Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio.

Flip Saunders: I said, "You know, Kevin, you won a championship in Boston, but when people think about you, they're always going to think about you as a Timberwolf. That's when you were MVP, All-NBA, All-Defensive (team)." I thought that maybe there was a chance that he might want to come back and finish, because he never really did want to leave here.

Paul Pierce: I thought he made a good decision. I told him, "The people of Minnesota are really going to appreciate you more than they do in Brooklyn." And I think he felt that.

Jerry Zgoda: Basketball-wise, it made no sense, giving up a guy 26, Thad Young, for this guy. But here, it was a little bit of a fairy tale, him coming back. I was actually surprised how (positively) people reacted to it. I don't know if that was so much that they were hoping that it was the same guy they traded away in 2007, or just the fact of it's just a good story.

Glen Taylor: I'm happy. And I told him.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 13:  Kevin Garnett #21 talks with teammate Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 13, 2015 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
David Sherman/Getty Images

Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves rookie: The first couple games we had, there were a lot of fans here at the beginning of the year. Then it started fading away a little bit. Then when KG came back, it was a packed house. A lot of fans came out, a lot of new faces, and you could just feel a different energy in the gym.

Jerry Zgoda: The night he came back was magic. You don't see that that much, especially in that arena. It was special.

Paul Pierce (who, as a member of the Wizards, played against Garnett in his first game back): Oh man, it was unbelievable. I haven't seen Minnesota like that since he left. It used to be one of the loudest buildings in the league when he was there. Then he left, it was like a ghost town.

Flip Saunders: The first road trip we came back on…the young guys were all in the back, three seats on each side. It was Lorenzo [Brown] and Zach and Wig. … So KG started talking about stories and different things, concepts and games. And these three guys were sitting there, like this [Saunders rests his chin on his crossed arms, staring intently]their eyes, it was like they just saw Santa Claus. If I had a picturethey were riveted to their seats.

Anthony Bennett, Timberwolves forward: He's always a hard worker, always intense, always talkative. Everything about his vibe changed the locker room. … Someone missed a shot, he'll go to them, bring them back up. Just the little things, but it goes a long way for other players.

Flip Saunders: We're trying to get guys that are 20 to start playing like they're 23 or 24. … No one says it like he does. Even the players we have that are the veteran guys, like Gary Neal, say, "I never imagined that KG was this type of leader."

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Paul Pierce: He's going to give them an attitude. … He might not be that dominant KG, the MVP, the one dominating games. But his voice is louder than ever, in that locker room moreso I think than in Brooklyn.

Jerry Zgoda: He was having a dialogue with Zach LaVine quite a bit of time before (a game in Utah), giving him grief as much as anything. … Zach goes out and hits two big shots. I heard Garnett was going crazy in the dressing room watching it, saying, "That's my guy."

Flip Saunders: What KG brings, the other things, how he might help these other guys analytically be better, is more important than a low first-round pick or whatever it is.

Those who know Garnett best believe he will play another season or two, as a role player and mentor. After that, many believe Garnett will be given a share of the franchise, or perhaps seek to purchase the club himself, with an investment group. However the next chapter unfolds, it appears Garnett is back in Minneapolis to stay.

Paul Pierce: Let me tell you something, I heard KG say he was going to retire four years ago. In Boston. After like 2010 or '11, he was like this is it, this is it. He's still here.

Jerry Zgoda: I think he's going to be the next owner. He won't put the big money behind it, but he'll be the face of it, like Magic Johnson is with the Dodgers. I think that's why he agreed to do this.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Sam Mitchell: He came home. You think about it, he's the only Timberwolf, period, in history that really means anything. … He's everything. He is everything.

Jerry Zgoda: There's not much to be proud of if you're a Wolves fan for the last 20 years, but he's the guy that defines all that is.

Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is a co-host of NBA Sunday Tip, 9-11 a.m. ET on SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.


Howard Beck interviewed Danny Ainge, Paul Pierce, Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell, Glen Taylor, Dwane Casey, Terry Porter, Christian Laettner, Jim LaBumbard, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, John Hammond, John Nash, Jerry Zgoda, Steve Aschburner, Jonathan Abrams, Russ Granik, Ron Klempner, Kevin Johnson, Jose Calderon, Andy Miller, Mason Plumlee, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.

Ethan Skolnick interviewed Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Webber, Kendrick Perkins, Henry Walker and Tony Allen.

Ric Bucher interviewed Sonny Vaccaro, Brian Scalabrine and Alvin Gentry.

Jared Zwerling interviewed Doc Rivers, Glen Davis, Zach Randolph, Chris Bosh, Tyronn Lue and Joe Abunassar. 

Kevin Ding interviewed Sam Cassell and Doc Rivers.

Jonathan Feigen interviewed Kevin McHale.


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