Kevin Garnett 'Uncensored' Excerpt: When Kobe and I Were the Future

Kevin GarnettSpecial to Bleacher Report,February 25, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (8) goes up past Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) for a shot in the second quarter in Minneapolis, Friday, Dec. 17, 1999. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
ANN HEISENFELT/Associated Press

(Editor's note: the following is an excerpt from NBA legend Kevin Garnett's new memoir KG: A TO Z: An Uncensored Encyclopedia of Life, Basketball, and Everything in Between, available now at bookstores and online retailers.) 


It was 2008, and after 13 seasons, I had finally won the muthaf--kin' Finals and helped bring the Celtics their first championship in more than 20 years.

When the horn went off and the game was over, time froze. My mind froze. I had halfway been expecting a buzzer-beater; but it was a blowout. We beat down the Lakers by 39 points. Confetti was coming down as I was going up. I'd never been that high or felt so hyped.

I was in the bliss: people grabbing at me, hugging, kissing, crying. I looked over at my wife, saw my kids, my family, my friends, my fans, and then, like a movie, my brain went on rewind, replaying scenes, rushing at me at once: hooping in my neighbor Billy's driveway when I barely knew how to shoot; waking up the neighborhood at 5 in the Carolina morning 'cause I couldn't stop working on my dribbling; a country kid, then a teenager trying to download those badass Chicago streets; wins, losses, bumps, bruises, a million memories, a million hours on the grind, hacking, scraping, clawing to get where I needed to go; and there I was at last.

Reporter Michele Tafoya holding up a mic in front of my face. The Boston crowd wildin' out. She gotta shout for me to hear.

"League MVP. Defensive Player of the Year. Now it's time to add to your resume: NBA champion. How does that sound?"

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I put my hand to the fresh-out-the-box championship hat on my head.

"Man, I'm so hyped right now." 

I take a second to gather myself. Another rush of images flashing in front of me: sitting at Ruth's Chris Steak House during a family dinner; watching D-Wade playing Chauncey in the Eastern finals; my struggles in Greenville, AAU tournaments, endless games in endless parks in endless neighborhoods, going, growing, never stopping, learning, burning with an energy that gets more intense year by year, wanting this thing, wanting it for all my 12 years in Minneapolis, wanting it for the T-Wolves fans, wanting it for the Celtics fans, wanting this ultimate win, this championship that I've desired more than anything—more than money or fame or sex. And now the reality clicks in my brain, runs down my spine, enters my soul, and I'm taking off my hat and tilting my head straight back and screaming like a madman.

"Anything is possible!"

A few moments later, I add, "Top of the world! Top of the world! ... I'm certified! I'm certified!"

I'm yelling so loud that my voice can be heard beyond those 16—soon to be 17—championship banners hanging from the rafters all the way up to heaven. Yellin' up there to Malik Sealy and Eldrick Leamon and everyone I loved and lost. Everyone who got me to this moment.

In the middle of the mad scramble I see Kobean. I call him "Kobean" or "Bean" cause his dad is Jellybean. Bean knows what I was going through. I'd been chasing him, been chasing Shaq, been chasing Timmy, been chasing all the legacies, and now the moment is mine.

"Congratulations, man," says Bean.

"Enjoy this, cause there ain't gonna be too many more. I'll see yo b---h ass next year."

I have to get in my blows, have to say: "We activated now. This ain't that Minnesota s--t."

"We'll see."

"Say hi to Vanessa and the kids," I say.

"Love you, my brotha."

"Love you too, dawg."

Then I give him one of those gorilla hugs around the neck and ask, "Bean, y'all out tonight?"

"Hell, yes," said Kob, "we getting the f--k outta this b---h."

It's beautiful because I know how pissed he is—Bean hates losing more than anyone—but I also know that he has to be a little happy for his OG.

I never imagined he'd die before me. In writing about Bean, I'm feeling so many things at once. I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around what happened. Disbelief. It was too sudden. Too awful. Too painful to process. But once I face the awful fact, I eventually get to pride—pride at what Kobean accomplished and then gratitude that he was in my life and that we became brothas.

We first met in Philly, the Spectrum, my rookie season. I liked the Spectrum because the lighting was dark and dramatic. I had a decent game, came off the floor, and when I walked into the locker room, there he was, sitting on my stool.

"Whassup, KG," he said. "I'm Kobe."

From KG: A TO Z: An Uncensored Encyclopedia of Life, Basketball, and Everything in Between by Kevin Garnett with David Ritz.

"Whassup," I shot back. "But why is yo ass in my seat? Get the f--k outta my seat."

He jumped up right quick, and we had a little chuckle. He was super animated, boisterous as a little boy. He was lit. I could see the spit on his words coming off his voice. He came at me straight ahead. We were teenagers. He was 17. I was 19. I was already in. He was a year away from getting in. He was fixing to do what I'd done—go straight from high school to the draft—so right away we related. Never had met nobody with so many questions. One tumbling out after another.

"Is it really as aggressive as it looks out there?"

"Hell, yes, it's aggressive."

"Is it rough being a rook?"

"Rough as f--k."

"How do you mean?"

"It's about paying dues. About standing up to vets who see you as a threat. About getting your ass kicked. About standing your ground."

"You got a crew? You got your people?"

"I got my people, but I'm a to-myself kinda dude. I can feel you're more a people person."

He proved me right. Kobean was my kid brotha. He was the extrovert. I was the introvert. His dad was a hooper who helped take him through the maze. Later, when we tightened up, he'd be telling me stories about the Italian league. He'd start spittin' in Italian. That was some funny s--t. But on those endless All-Star locker room talks and lunches, after the media sessions were over, we'd be sitting in the hallway, two hoopers just chopping it up. That's when Bean would tell me about the challenges of fitting in as an American kid after all his years in Europe. Not just as an American kid, but a Black kid. He went through his own culture shock before he shocked the world. Me and Bean were molded differently, but in some ways I saw him as the 2.0 version of me. He did his due diligence. 

He could have approached all kinds of dudes to get the download on the league. And I know he did. But the idea that he came to me early makes me happy.

In many ways, the press did him like they did me. Media started hounding him when he was still at Lower Merion High School near Philly. Followed him to his prom when his date was Brandy. Let him know that his life would never be as private as he would have liked. As all of us would have liked. 

I watched him get drafted. Watched him during those early years when it wasn't easy. He took a beating. Everyone does. The more talent, the worse the beating. Some of his own players were making fun of him, saying s--t like, "OK, Showtime." I remember him telling me how he felt like they were laughing at him rather than with him. Took him a while to trust his teammates. But he was able to do it; he was able to get with D-Fish and T-Lue and Brian Shaw. They were his real n----s.

I'm remembering his first All-Star Game. It was also Timmy Duncan's first. It was my second, 1998. Madison Square Garden. First All-Star with Kob and Jordan. The press was playing up how, at 19, Bean was the youngest All-Star ever. The press was getting to him. Sooner or later, the press gets to all of us. The press was saying that Jordan was already polished to perfection and we'd see just how much polish Kob had going for him.

Larry Bird was coaching the East and figured Bean would be overboisterous. He was saying s--t like: "Let Kobe shoot. He gonna shoot himself outta this game." Bird was toying with him. Everyone was messin' with him. The buildup was putting heavy anxiety on his head.

But because we were always copacetic, I could read his vibe, I could say: "Forget that nervous s--t, Kob. We here now, boy. We here!" I gave him a double-dap on his chest with my fists and screamed right in his face. "We starters! We the future!"

I told him I'd be looking for him, and then some five or six minutes into the first quarter I saw him heading into the paint. That's when I launched the Lob from God. I put on the proper touch so that b---h just stayed up there big as the midnight moon, hanging for a split second until Bean grabbed the muthaf--ka two-handed and dunked the s--t out of it. Place went nuts.

"Told you," I said.

"Woof," he said. And he slipped right into the mix.

Our All-Star team was tough—Bean, me, Shaq, Gary Payton, Karl Malone. At one point, Karl got pissed 'cause of a messed-up pick-and-roll. A lot of the vets got peeved. But that was part of the fun. Young dudes coming in. Old dudes storming back. Not just East vs. West, but generation vs. generation, a bruisin' battle of the ages.

The East won the game. MJ got MVP for his 23 points, six rebounds and eight assists. But Kob did himself proud. Led us with 18 points. He played his heart out, and I never did see him nervous again.

So many beautiful moments between us. So many snapshots in my mind. Warm feelings. Family feelings. 

2010 All-Star Weekend in Dallas, Saturday night Dunk Contest, me sitting in the front row with my two-year-old daughter, Bean and Vanessa sitting right next to me, Vanessa making a big fuss over my baby—"She's so adorable! She's so gorgeous! You're so blessed, Kevin"—Kob and I taking the turn from single dudes to married men.

Now I'm thinking about the good things, the funny times, even the times when we got crossways.

Just after Bean was drafted, I started summers in L.A. to shoot Nike commercials. Kob wanted me to practice at Loyola Marymount, but I never liked that floor. It had concrete underneath. For me, UCLA was the spot. UCLA had all the street players. That's where the run was at. Everyone had their boys, wasn't no foolin' around in there. Say some slick s--t and it could go down in a hurry. I liked that environment.

Bean never would come to UCLA. He'd be saying, "KG, you need to play in Venice [Beach]."

I'd played in Venice, but that was earlier in my life. Now I saw Venice in a different light.

"Why?" asked Bean. "Venice Beach got some good-ass games."

"Playing on concrete ain't the smartest thing. Playing on concrete will f--k up your legs."

Playing in Venice was where Bean broke his wrist. But a broken wrist didn't stop him. Nothing did.

During regular-season games, we were consistent with each other. We banged, we fought, we trashed. I picked him when I had to pick him. Blocked him when I could block him. He'd be saying, "You can't guard me." I'd be saying, "The f--k I can't."

Two thoroughbreds out there, two fierce competitors seeing how far we could take it. Never was a game, no matter how fierce, where we didn't dap each other after.

Only time I can recall real frustration was the summer of 2007, when I was fixing to bust a move. I'd come to the end of the road with the T-Wolves. It was between three teams—Suns, Celtics and Lakers—and I wanted to get Kob's take on whether he thought his Lakers were right for me. I called him. No answer. Called a second time. No answer. Checked my phone to make sure I had the right number: Bean Bryant. Go over the digits carefully. Yes, sir, that's the number. Let me try this again. Fifth time. Sixth. 

Before calling the 14th time, I asked my wife, "Should I try him again?" "Yes," she said. "It's your future." I even asked Tyronn Lue, who was close to both of us, to get him to holler at me, but Bean never did. After my 20th time, I figured enough was enough. Only later did I learn that he was in China for a long while. But that didn't mean he wasn't getting messages.

The planet kept spinning. That summer the Celtics traded for Ray Allen, and suddenly things came into focus. T-Lue was telling me, "Ticket, this is it." Chauncey Billups was saying the same. "Ain't gonna be a better opportunity. You gotta jump over to Beantown, baby." That summer, Gary Payton renewed his marriage vows in L.A. I wanted to show support for GP. Antoine Walker was there as well. Antoine was coming off his Heat championship. He got him a ring. Antoine and I got to talking. He was echoing Shot and T-Lue.

"Boston is what's up, big fella. You gotta make that move. You gotta get that ring."

I could feel Antoine. He was being genuine. He had my best interests at heart. Brotha gave me some of the best advice of my life.

I made the decision. Made it with confidence. Made it with determination. I put away the fantasy of being Bean's teammate. Wasn't all that easy, but I did what I had to do. 

And after I did it, after the season was underway, there we were, November 23, facing off against each other in Boston, me a Celtic, Bean a Laker, with someone at the free-throw line. I avoided lining up next to him 'cause I didn't wanna hear his punk-ass excuse for not calling me back. Then he switched so he could be next to me. Then, again, I moved away. Finally, the ref had to say, "You guys get somewhere and stop!"

When he approached me, my first words were, "Man, you never called me back." 

"Never got the message."

"Bulls--t."

"What number you call?"

"The right number. The one T-Lue gave me."

"You know how it goes, KG. We change numbers like we change drawers."

"I'm believing you got the message."

"Messages get lost."

"Not when a message is sent 20 f--kin' times."

"Look, man, I had China. I had the new Nike line poppin' off. I had more s--t happening than ever before. I was moving in eight different directions."

"I understand all that, but you sure as s--t wasn't moving in my direction." 

We kept beefin' for a minute or two. It got caught on camera, and folks made more of it than was really there. I had me some hurt feelings. Finally, Bean apologized, and that was good enough for me. 

Between Kob and me, bad feelings always faded away. He had a dry-ass style of humor he got from Jordan. Matter of fact, Kob was consciously following the Jordan script. That was no different than any hooper of our generation. Bean moved to Orange County knowing that Jordan was living less than an hour away. He even walked like Jordan. He used to tape his pinky like Jordan. Then he started to believe he was better than Jordan. If you're as great as Bean was, you gotta get yourself to believe that—or else you ain't getting any better. Can't no one intimidate you.

At the same time, Kob was always supportive of me. In 2000, he got his first title by beating the Pacers 4-2. Back then, we had the Sky Page device with those pins and s--t. I sent him a message that said, "Congratulations." He hit me back with, "Oh man, it's been a crazy whirlwind." Then, when he started winning rings, he called and said, "Don't worry, dawg, you gonna get there."

I was like, "Man, get the f--k outta here. I don't need that big-brotha s--t. Now I'm the little brotha?"

"The script has done flipped," he said.

"Well, it's gonna get flipped all over again. So watch yo ass." 

Love and respect. That's what I felt when he hit 81 points January 22, 2006, against the Raptors. I saw that as his conviction and culmination. He manifested his rhythm. He hit 'em and continued to hit 'em. Sixty wasn't enough. Seventy wasn't enough. Even 80 wasn't enough. Eighty-one was the number. Damn near couldn't believe it. Thought I was watching a video game. And it was against one of my greater friends, Sam Mitchell, who was coaching the Raptors. I even got mad because I was rooting for Kob to outscore Wilt, who dropped in 100 back in 1962.

And then came the 2010 championship, when Bean beat us with a broken index finger on his shooting hand. That was real beast mode.

We told ourselves in that Game 7 that we were gonna stop Kob. That was our strategy. But Kob found a way to win anyway. While he was struggling, he was quick to see who wasn't. Metta Sandiford-Artest, still called Ron back then, had a hot hand. He scored 20. The last three were the most important.

We played that critical possession perfectly. Fourth quarter. Minute left on the clock. Lakers up three. Bean has the ball on the wing. Ray is playing him straight-up. Everybody in the building knows he wants to take that shot. F--k no, we ain't gonna let him. Rasheed comes over to double, and Kob drives right. But Ray cuts him off, doesn't let him in the lane. So Bean goes up in the air and gets off a tough pass to Metta behind the arc. Paul [Pierce] has already rotated over and gets a hand in his face, makes a nice contest. We do everything we're supposed to do. Ball just goes in.

There were a lot of tears in the locker room after the game. A lot of hugs. More than 10 years later, that loss is still hard to accept. That C's team was too good to only get one ring. But Bean's brilliant pass and Metta's three did us in.

Kobe's final season, when every city showered him with love, led to some of the most sentimental moments in the history of hoop. In his last game, of course he'd score 60. No-brainer. 

If I have any guilt, it's that I didn't take our friendship to another level. After we retired, I could have reached out more. I wish I had. But Kobe had gone down to Orange County, and I was up in L.A. We were leading two different lives and moving in different directions.

When I got the news that Kob and his precious daughter and all those other good folk had gone on to Glory, the first person I called was Paul. He'd be hurting the way I was hurting. I had to talk to P. But I couldn't talk. All I could do was cry. Well, it's OK to cry like a baby. When I think how Kob's time was cut short, I gotta cry. No other reaction is real. This grief ain't going away. But somehow I gotta move from grief to belief. I gotta go to spirit. Spirit is real. Spirit is something we can feel. The spiritual truth is that I, along with the rest of the world, will be feeling Bean's spirit for the rest of our days.

       

From KG: A TO Z: An Uncensored Encyclopedia of Life, Basketball, and Everything in Between by Kevin Garnett with David Ritz. Copyright © 2021 by Garnett Enterprises LLC. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.